Meeting Thunderbirds pilots inspiring |

Meeting Thunderbirds pilots inspiring

by Robbe Lehmann
Special to The R-C
Thunderbird No. 2 pilot, Major Joshua Boudreaux, speaks about his experience and some of the benefits of performing at smaller airshows close to their home base Thursday on the tarmac at the Reno-Tahoe Airport.
Brad Coman | Nevada Appeal

Prior to the USAF Thunderbirds landing in Reno to perform in the Minden air show I met one of their pilots, Major Joshua Boudreaux, through a mutual friend. Despite, from what I imagine is countless requests, he graciously took the time to show my three children and several of their friends his jet. He talked to them on their level about his job in the Air Force and the many men and women who dedicate themselves behind the scenes to make the Thunderbirds fly. He patiently answered their many questions even though several of them asked the same question (it turns out 9-year-olds really want to know about bombs).

Later that day my family and I hosted several of the pilots and other officers and a couple of their families for a BBQ on the beach in Lake Tahoe. I very much enjoyed their company and talking to them about the Thunderbirds and their other interests. I was highly impressed with the professionalism and integrity of the group. They spoke genuinely of the love of their jobs. And they spoke lovingly, and longingly, of their wives and families from whom they are separated up to 220 days a year during this demanding assignment.

Over the course of the weekend I spent time with several of the Thunderbirds a couple more times. As a certified aviation nerd I couldn’t get enough of the stories from the pilots, the cream of the Air Force. However, it was Captain Sara Harper, the team’s Public Affairs Officer that won the hearts of my two young daughters. She opened my girls’ eyes to the fact that they too can Aim High; it’s not just a boys club.

At the airshow Major Scott Petz, the No. 8 pilot, and the team’s flight surgeon and maintenance officer took the time to interact with the public and pose for photos. Within minutes the high school-aged kids in the crowd were posting their photos on Instagram and FaceBook. Several of them were inspired to consider the Air Force and the armed forces as a career.

After the Thunderbirds performed on Saturday my son, who until now was sure that all he wanted to do was play in the NBA, said to me, “When I grow up I am definitely enlisting in the Air Force.”

A friend of mine’s son, who was already considering the Air Force but feeling like becoming a pilot was pretty much unattainable, heard Major Boudreaux speak at Douglas High School and left encouraged. He said that the message presented there was that “if you are good students and you have the drive and the attitude, you can become a pilot.” That was all that he needed to hear and is now planning on pursuing the dream after graduation.

I relate these stories as an illustration that the Thunderbird team is more than just a cool air show act.

They are wonderful, dedicated men and women who are successful in their primary mission of inspiring and educating the public about the Air Force.

It’s true that operating the jets and team is an expensive proposition. However, it’s invaluable to the young and impressionable minds that are able to meet a pilot at school on Friday and watch him fly on Saturday.

Robbe Lehman is a Douglas County School Board trustee and Genoa resident