ST. GEORGE – It’s true that the fly boys of Thunder over Utah widen our eyes as they streak across our skies, it’s true that we are awestruck and entertained, and it is true that thousands coming into town to enjoy the show ought bring a weekend boost to our local economy. But when you stop and listen to more than the roar of those jets, you find that these fly boys and the fine crewmen that accompany them are here on a mission, a mission that echoes from their proud calling.
These men and women are military through and through. They are Navy, Marine and Air Force. They are America’s finest. They come from all over the American map, some through enlistment, some through academies, they are highly trained and they all have one primary concern: To see this Country served and her troops protected.
Aviation machinist Kirk Mansfield, AD2 (Mate 2nd year), said, “We are here for recruiting during the show. We’ll be out in the crowd, looking for high school and some college aged kids, mostly we put the bug in their ear.”
Mansfield, from Monterey, Calif., is proof of the possibilities available. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy at 19, originally coming in as a rescue swimmer. He continued into Officer Candidate School earning his college degree and then he got his training for “this:” Mansfield is a power technician, he works on engines and fuel systems. He is the guy that keeps these planes humming and could turn them around to be combat ready within 74 hours should need arise.
He has served on fleet command, three cruises, – “on the seas” he said, not “overseas,” – he’s lived on an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Gulf and other gulfs. He spent time on the sea in Bahrain more times than he could count. “There is sand, and it’s hot . . . . and it’s hot . . . . and it’s hot . . . . there’s no wind and it’s humid and sticky.”
Despite uncomfortable atmospheres he has lived in, Mansfield’s love for the seas and service was revealed when asked if his goal was to be a pilot and not return to a carrier; without hesitation he said:
“No Ma’am, I still want to go back out.
“Seems that people have a passion; I do, I love being out at sea, I’m a sailor through and through, I really am, and there’s nothing better than going out and serving … out there.”
And Mansfield would not second-guess the Commander in Chief and the country’s involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq or any potential engagement with Iran.
“I will do what I’m told,” he said. “If we’re there we’re there. I’m going to work on my aircraft and keep my people in the air safe.”
U.S. Navy 2nd Lt. John Hiltz, whose deployments have included operating from boats in Iraq, Afghanistan and the South Pacific, was similarly deliberate:
“My responsibility as a pilot is to support the troops on the ground, so my personal feeling is irrelevant.
“You know. I signed up to serve at the will of the President and if that is where our troops are deployed then my job is to provide the support to them, whether it be surveillance missions, or close air support, and my job is to see that our guys on the ground are as safe as they can possibly be.
“And I can tell you that we did a lot more just sort of low and loud passes just to make a lot of noise and to protect them, there was not a better feeling that I’ve ever had in my life than to have the guys call through on the radio and say, ‘hey, thanks a lot for doing that low pass, we’re going to sleep better tonight because of that noise you just made.’
“So that’s my job to keep those guys safe, and as long as we’re there, I’m proud and honored to protect them.”
Hiltz is eight years in, and flying with the Blue Angels is a childhood dream he is living:
“Absolutely, it 100 percent is – the ability to travel around the country and bring that same childhood dream that was in my head to kids – it’s a really unique privilege and pleasure and I’m also really honored, … proud, to represent sailors and marines that are deployed around the world.”
Being a Blue Angel pilot appears to set one in an elite class. But Hiltz wouldn’t have it put that way. “It’s a competitive process to be selected,” he said. “We all come from operational navy and resources – it’s a competitive process – but I’m not any different from (other) pilots.”
For U.S. Air Force pilot “Basher,” who flies the F-22 Raptor, the pinnacle of all planes, his enjoyment is candid but his resolution of purpose is nonetheless clear. Based in Langley, Virginia, his calling is to be in a “constant state of readiness.”
Basher hasn’t seen air-to-air combat in some time. He said the last time the need for the likes of the Raptor arose ended when Sadaam Hussein buried his planes in the sand.
It’s a rare treat for Southern Utah to receive such guests. But the pilots are enjoying Dixie’s red landscape too.
Hiltz said, “I’ve spent over a year of my life on a boat so it’s pretty neat to be flying around on land, because landing on a boat isn’t the easiest thing to do, I’ll do it daytime for free but nighttime you have to pay me.” Columnist, Dallas Hyland, said pilots who have landed at the old airport might rival him.
Weather and cloud cover not cooperating, we may not get the full glory of the Angels’ acrobatics today, but we have enjoyed their presence since Tuesday, and their service to our best interests on so many planes is to be appreciated.
Young Utahns? This could be you.
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Copyright 2012 St. George News.