Viewpoint: Blue Angels much more than entertainment

Ryan Wiggins

Last year, I had the distinct honor of watching the Blue Angels fly their dress rehearsal while hosting an infantry Marine who had recently returned from a tour in the Middle East. He had never seen them fly before and was more than a little excited to see our elite aerobatics team do their thing.

While I had seen them perform countless times, it was fun watching his excitement. I didn’t realize that this experience would change the way I viewed the Blue Angels for the rest of my life.

As the show began and Fat Albert made her pass, the sheer pride on his face was something to behold. Those were “his” guys. Those were his brothers, and like any little brother watching his older siblings show off their talents, he was ready to absolutely burst with pride. But, then the show took a different turn.

As the jets roared by in formation for the first time, I watched his body tense. I saw an incredible amount of pride on his face, but his mood had changed to stoic and completely serious. His wife checked on him and he said he was fine, but it was clear something had changed in him. He was back in combat in the Middle East. As it turned out, he had seen the Blue Angels do their thing, only, the jets weren’t blue and they weren’t putting on a show. It was the real deal, and in the “show” he saw, those jets had guided missiles attached to their wings.

That’s the part we miss when we watch these talented pilots above our skies. What they are doing is not a performance. It’s not artistic and it’s not just for our entertainment. The vast majority of the maneuvers they perform are used in combat in one way or another. What they are doing is giving you, a taxpayer, a taste of what your money supports in the defense budget. It’s open government at its finest. As taxpayers, we have the right to see the precision, training, dedication, and discipline of our military and the capabilities of our fleet. The F/A 18s and C-130 they fly are not stunt planes, and, in fact, can be made combat-ready in 72 hours.

The Blue Angels are not just 16 officers in brightly colored blue and gold flight suits. It’s not even the approximately 110 enlisted Navy and Marine Corps servicemembers you never see who provide support and maintenance to the team. The Blue Angels and their dedicated crew ARE our military. They are representatives of the excellence and professionalism found throughout our fleet. They are the servicemember who just left their spouse and newborn to serve a 12-month deployment on an aircraft carrier. They are the fighter jet pilot who just took out an ISIS cell with a guided missile. They are the engineer who works all hours to make sure that when freedom is in jeopardy, we are ready to go. No, our Blue Angels are not just entertainers, they are the physical, tangible representation of the hundreds of thousands of dedicated service men and women serving our nation all over the world.

Last year, after my infantry Marine friend left, I sat alone for a very long time looking out at the water just processing how silly I was to have watched the Blue Angels all of my life and yet to had never really seen them. The next day when they were about to start their show and I saw them way out on the horizon, I began to cry and cry. I cried for the servicemember overseas who was missing his family. I cried for the pilot who was taking off for a mission he or she may not return from. I cried for my friend who would never be able to watch the Blues fly with the naive innocence with which I had always watched them. I cried for those we have lost and never even knew about. And, I cried out of a sense of shear, unadulterated pride in my country, in my military, and in my Blue Angels and all they represent.

Ryan Wiggins is a wife, mother, Pensacola native and lifelong Blue Angels fan. Follow her on Twitter @Ryan_N_Wiggins.

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