Friday, October 09, 2009

Thunderbirds perform for Malaysian audience

by Tech. Sgt. Randy Redman, Thunderbirds Public Affairs

SUBANG AIR BASE, Malaysia (AFNS) -- Royalty, foreign diplomats, senior military members and civilians alike welcomed the members of the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron with open arms as the Thunderbirds arrived at Subang Air Base Sept. 30 for the third stop on their Far East Tour.

Lt. Col. Derek Routt, the Thunderbirds' operations officer, said the team was in Malaysia to represent the Air Force and America and strengthen the partnership with Malaysia and its military.

The city itself has a cosmopolitan air with bustling streets and shining modern office towers that project an unbounded spirit of progress and symbolize Malaysia's unhesitating leap into the future. Kuala Lumpur is home to the Petronas Towers, the tallest twin buildings in the world. Kuala Lumpur boasts an estimated population of 1.6 million, and the surrounding greater Klang Valley metropolitan area is pushing the 5 million mark and is the fastest growing metropolitan area in Malaysia.

"I've been to the region before to places like Thailand and (South) Korea, and Malaysia was exactly what I expected," Colonel Routt said. "The technological advancements of Kuala Lumpur rival that of any global city."

However, the locals had something much different to see in the sky over the city Oct. 3, when more than 45,000 people converged on the Royal Malaysian Air Force Base to see the Thunderbirds performance.

Distinguished visitors in attendance included the sultan of Selangor, the secretary general of the ministry of defence, the chief of defence forces and the host for the airshow the new chief of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, General Dato'Rodzali bin Daud. American Ambassador to Malaysia James Keith traveled to the airshow site to personally welcome the team.

The Thunderbirds' airshow represented skill, precision and airpower; however, Colonel Routt said the team's visit to Malaysia was about much more than an airshow. He explained that he felt his role as an ambassador was to continue fostering friendship in the region to help promote security and stability in the Pacific.

"It's about interacting and getting to know the people; that lets you truly experience what a place has to offer," he said.

The Thunderbirds presence in Malaysia is very timely, said Brig. Gen. Dato' Ansar Ali Majeth, Royal Malaysian air force director general operations and exercises. At a time when efforts are being made to enhance country-to-country and air force-to-air force relations, the airshow and interaction with the local community was perfect.

"Although I've been in the service many years, it was the first time I've seen (the show) live," General Ansar said. "I've no doubt they are some of the best demo pilots in the world. As a pilot, I can appreciate the skills it takes to perform such a show."

He also added that it was about much more than an aerial performance.

"Seeing the way (the Thunderbirds) interact with the crowd and seeing the crowd response, it's obvious they are doing a good job," the general said.

"It is truly an honor and a humbling experience for me to be here, and I hope to represent Americans well in every country we visit," said Colonel Routt, referring to the upcoming stops on the Thunderbirds' Far East tour.

In the next few weeks, the team will also visit Guam, Thailand, Japan and South Korea.