Fort Stewart, GA - Jets, planes, helicopters and precision parachutists wowed the Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield community at the Salute the Troops Air Show held at Mid-Coast Regional Airport at Wright Army Airfield, June 14-15.
The two-day event sponsored by the installation, local businesses, city and county governments honored the Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division, currently returning from the War on Terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to media spokesperson Leah Poole, despite having to close the show early on Sunday due to thunderstorms, nearly 4,000 members of the community visited the air show Saturday and Sunday. The air show kicked off at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday with a presentation of the colors by the 3rd Inf. Div. color guard. They were supported from above by two precision parachutists from the 101st Airborne Division's Screaming Eagles Parachute Demonstration Team. Staff Sgt. Dewey Vinaya and Spc. Brandie Phillips flew in the American flag under canopy in a bi-plane formation made through a maneuver called Canopy Relative Work in which the two jumpers seemingly stack their ram-air parachutes, one atop the other. While the national anthem was sang, a huge American flag trailed below Phillips' feet as the two descended slowly toward the airfield. The Screaming Eagles were jumping a C-23 Sherpa, flown by the Georgia Air National Guard. As the jumpers descended, three World War II era T-6 single-engine airplanes circled them with smoke trailing. After the jumpers landed, Gary Ward got the show going with his MX2, the latest design in high-energy aerobatic monoplanes. He wowed the crowds with belly rolls, back loops and nose dives, all done with smoke trailing, leaving his mark across the sky. Ward, who has been performing in air shows since 1998, developed an interest in flying in his early teens. He took his first solo flight 50 years ago at age 16. After high school, he served a tour in the Air Force as a jet engine mechanic. After his military service, he continued his interest in aviation by earning a degree in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech, all the while continuing to fly whenever possible. "I've always had a passion for flying," said Ward, who calls Lincolnton, Ga. his home. "This weekend makes my sixth weekend in a row doing air shows. Next weekend, I'll be doing a show in the Bahamas." A solo T-6 followed Ward's performance then a full show by the Screaming Eagles. Most of those enjoying the parachute demonstration probably didn't even notice that one of the Eagles' jumpers, Sgt. Max Ramsey, jumps with an artificial leg. The air assault infantryman was injured by an improvised explosive device in Ramadi, Iraq in March 2006. Despite the loss of his left leg, he was jumping again by September that year and performing with the team by March 2007. Ramsey now has over 750 freefall parachute jumps. In addition to static displays of an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, an MQ-5B Hunter armed reconnaissance plane and a vintage UH-1H 'Huey' helicopter that offered passenger rides for $50 a passenger, other air show performances included the Fred Cabanas Pitts Demo show, the Alabama Boys comedy act, the Iron Eagles show, RV8, Greg Connell Pitts show, Matt Younkin's BE18 show, Greg Koontz Air Show and Aeroshell's T-6's. Probably the highlight of each afternoon's show was the performance by Air Force Capt. Sam "Nuke" Joplin, who flew an F-15 high-performance fighter jet. The roar and booming of this modern day jet fighter and its awesome capabilities gave the crowd an appreciation for the advances in aviation. During a special heritage flight in which a World War II P-51 Mustang piloted by Lee Lauderback flew side-by-side with the F-15, a wave of pride followed in the wake of the jet and prop plane's flyover. Soldiers, Family members and the civilian community were reminded that America's Armed Forces continue to defend this great nation. -30-