Once a Thunderbird always a Thunderbird
Rarely do we experience something exceptional that remains an integral part of our lives forever. Not so for those who are or were fortunate to be members of the United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron. The world knows this organization simply as the Thunderbirds. I was privileged to serve as the Thunderbirds’ Executive Officer from 1977 to 1979. I can attest that the team’s motto, “Once a Thunderbird, Always a Thunderbird” is more than just a platitude. It is about being expected to be exceptional.
From their beginning in 1953, the Thunderbirds organization has been first and foremost about being exceptional. Not in an arrogant or elitist way. More so in the sense of being challenged and challenging yourself to meet Thunderbirds standards and expectations. Every day you are on the team.
You are made aware of the standards and what will be expected of you during the intense four-day Thunderbirds interview and selection process. And, when you join the team, you work very hard every day to meet and when possible exceed them. But, I thank the good Lord that I prevailed over the four other candidates with whom I competed. Being a Thunderbird changed my life more positively than anything else before or since. It was the best job I ever had. It was exceptional.
I guess this is why for the last several years I have been disturbed, angry and disheartened because it seems today being exceptional is increasingly disparaged. America is accused of and apologized for because of its history of “exceptionalism.” Our young children are being damaged by the institution of the everyone makes the team - everyone gets a trophy phenomenon. More and more citizens are driven away from the concept of being exceptional. They don’t even have to be just average, let alone exceptional in order to survive and live comfortably any more. Our government is destroying the driving spirit and work ethic that made America a once great country.
Sunday afternoon my wife and I attended the Thunderbirds air show in Ocean City, Md. It had been too many long years since we had watched them perform. It was nostalgic as we expected it to be. But also, for a few brief shining moments, it revived in me the tremendously good feeling I used to have every day living in America. The Thunderbirds’ other name is “America’s Ambassadors in Blue.” It compels upon you a sense of honor, pride and love for our country that never leaves you. I pray I will live to see the return of the America I knew back when I was part of “America’s Ambassadors in Blue.”