Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Canadian Snowbirds end season on high note

by Senior Airman Eydie Sakura, 341st Space Wing Public Affairs Office

MOOSE JAW, Saskatchewan -- The Canadian Forces Snowbirds aerial demonstration team celebrated their end-of-season show with special guests, family and friends in Moosejaw Oct. 12.

The 15th Wing commander, Col. R.D. Foster, and the Snowbirds team invited a small group from Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., and the Montana Air National Guard, up to Canada to thank them for their efforts in the crash recovery May 18, 2007, when Snowbirds 2 pilot, Capt. Shawn McCaughey died during a practice flight at Malmstrom prior to the team's two scheduled shows at the base's open house.

The celebratory end-of-season events kicked off with a 40-minute aerial acrobatics show, demonstrating the Snowbirds' precision movements and choreographed teamwork.

"Today's show was great, because just yesterday we were in those planes flying some of those exact same routines," said Col. Steve Asher, 341st Security Forces Group commander. "I appreciated the show much more today because we saw first-hand how much goes into each of the performances."

Colonel Asher and eight other Airmen received incentive flights Oct. 11 in the Snowbirds' signature plane, the CT-114 Tutor, in appreciation of all their efforts in May during the Snowbirds' season-opener event.

"The idea of flying in a Snowbird sounds far-fetched, and I'm still in disbelief that I took part in something of that magnitude," said Airman 1st Class Kenvin Keophakdy, 341st Medical Operations Squadron aerospace medical technician. "I'm very thankful I had the opportunity to honor a fallen pilot and to represent my country. In retrospect, tragedy is the soil that births many triumphs."

Maj. Robert Mitchell, Snowbirds commanding officer, said the year-end show is a culmination of the team's season and it's the opportunity to share the good experiences and bad experiences, but most importantly, it's about a celebration.

The festivities rolled into the evening hours, and roughly 180 people attended the Snowbirds' formal dining-in celebration here. The dinner featured several guest speakers and award presentations, as well as formal farewells to out-going teammates. Throughout the day of celebration, however, there was time for remembrance and reflection for fallen comrades. Major Mitchell said even though the team endured a great loss, the experience brought them closer together.

"We started out our season on a sad note; from day one, man, what a kick in the head for a team. Our very first day of the show season and we lost a great guy and a good friend," the major said. "That [experience] has changed every one of us. The team rose out of this and rose to greatness this year. Shawn's last gift to us was tightening our team."

The word "thank you" was brought up several times during the day, spoken from the mouths of people from Moose Jaw and the 15th Wing, and landed in the direction of the Airmen from Malmstrom and MANG during their visit with their Canadian counterparts.

Major Mitchell echoed those words of thanks and said he hopes to continue the friendship that has blossomed over the course of the spring and summer months.

"I cannot thank you enough for what you folks provided to us when we were down [at Malmstrom]," the Snowbirds commanding officer said. "It was obviously a difficult time, and what we saw has left a wonderful feeling of humanity for most of the people on the team; the way you rose up and provided everything, and a genuine concern for our team and our welfare. It's become an indelible part of the Snowbird experience, and we are connected to Malmstrom, and I hope it continues for many, many years."