By Reggie Jarrett
Editor, Jax Air News
Naval Air Station Jacksonville's (NAS Jax) renowned aviators returned home this past weekend to headline the NAS Jax Air Show Nov. 5-6. The Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron was formed here in 1946.
"It is very special," Lt. Damon Kroes, pilot of Blue Angel 2 said of performing in Jacksonville.
"We are here at the end the season every year after we have had a year to refine our flight demonstration and our teamwork and trust, everything that goes into our mission. To come here to the birthplace of the Blue Angels, it just fires us up that much more to perform at the best we absolutely can. We represent the Sailors and Marines and strive to inspire the next generation to pursue excellence with whatever they choose to do with their life."
The air show brought another homecoming to NAS Jacksonville this weekend. AO2 Aldriick Kittles was stationed at Fleet Readiness Center Southeast from 2013 to 2016, he now is a crew chief for Blue Angel number 5. "It is an awesome experience," Kittles said about being part of the Blue Angels team. "What I like best is working with the kids. We take pictures with them and show them around the jets. They really appreciate it."
Kittles has come a long way since joining the Navy. "I joined the Navy as an undesignated seaman," he said. "I had no job." Now the Waynesboro, Georgia native is in charge of one of the Navy's most famous planes.
Kittles is just one of about 100 enlisted Navy and Marine personnel, in addition to 17 officers, that make up the Blue Angels team. "During the show you see the six jets performing our flight demonstration, but there are a whole lot of Blue Angel missions going on behind the scenes," said Kroes.
"The incredible work they do every day, all season long to keep these aircraft flying multiple times a day for us to get the repetitions and the practice necessary to perform our flight demonstrations safely is truly incredible," he continued. "They are the true heroes of this team."
The F/A-18 Hornets flown by the Blue Angels are among the oldest planes in the Navy's inventory being built in the late 1980s. Kroes compared them to classic cars. "They are old," he said, "but for our mission of representing the Navy and the Marine Corps and showcasing our pride and professionalism to the American people this aircraft does that magnificently. We are very proud to fly them."
The Blue Angels were just one part of the air show that drew more than 300,000 spectators to NAS Jax. Many of the best military and civilian pilots in the world such as Patty Wagstaff, Matt Chapman, Rob Holland, Sean Tucker and Skip Stewart thrilled the crowd with their spectacular aerobatic maneuvers.
Friday was a practice day for the performers. Thousands of students and Junior Reserve Officers Training Cadets witnessed the dress rehearsal. "I like the jets," said 8-year-old Griffin Osbeck from Sacred Heart Catholic School. "They go really fast and they do front flips and back flips."
Kroes remembers going to air shows as a youth and considers his job a dream come true. "I look at it as a very cool mission to help inspire the next generation just like I was inspired when I was a kid watching the Blue Angels," he said.
"Every air show is a venue for us to execute our mission. To represent the Navy and the Marine Corps, but it also is a medium for the community to take pride in the United States military and to take pride in experiencing the magic of flight."