Air Force reservist makes history through Thunderbird selection
by Capt. Jessica Martin
926th Group Public Affairs
6/6/2008 - NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- A pilot with the 93rd Fighter Squadron, Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., was selected May 29 as the first Air Force Reserve pilot to fly with the United States Air Force Aerial Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, here.
Maj. Sean Gustafson joins Team Nellis in November to fly the No. 4 slot aircraft for the 2009 and 2010 demonstration seasons, the first time a reservist has ever flown with the team since its inception in 1953.
"I'm proud to take on this mission, and I'm going to carry this out to the best of my ability," Major Gustafson said. "It's not about the pilots; it's about the more than 500,000 Air Force members stationed worldwide."
Like Major Gustafson will soon be, many reservists are embedded in active-duty units at Nellis, working next to their regular Air Force counterparts on a daily basis as part of Total Force Integration.
"We're a completely integrated Air Force now, and it shows the active-duty Air Force recognizes that it's 'one team one fight'," he said.
TFI is an Air Force-level initiative combining all Air Force components to provide unparalleled air, space and cyberspace power for the joint warfighter.
"The selection of a reservist truly embodies the total force concept," said Col. Russ Handy, 57th Wing commander. "Scores of extremely talented Airmen applied to be a member of this organization. Our screening process is designed to choose the best person for the job regardless of whether they are regular Air Force, guard or reserve.
"Major Gustafson is that Airman for the Thunderbird four position for the 2009-2010 team. I am very proud that thousands of spectators will see the teamwork of our total force on a daily basis on their USAF Thunderbirds," Colonel Handy said.
In today's fight, TFI spans the entire mission, including flying platforms, unmanned aerial systems, intelligence operations, logistics, civil support, training, space and cyberspace.
Another prime example of Nellis' implementation of the total force concept shines within the units of the 926th Group, which have been steadily growing in size here since 2005.
This group embeds reserve pilots and maintainers within the operational units of the 57th WG and 53rd Wing here and the 432nd Wing's unmanned aerial systems units at Creech AFB, Nev., as well as embeds reserve personnel working mission support functions here.
"The Air Force Reserve has really stepped up its operations in the Global War on Terrorism, and reservists are serving on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. My selection is a great way to inform people about how the Reserve is serving side-by-side with active duty and performing at an equal level," Major Gustafson said.
Major Gustafson, a Delta Airlines pilot, will take military leave from his civilian job to undergo a four-month training period here preparing him for the March-November season.
"My employer is a great supporter of military life," Major Gustafson said. "We reservists couldn't do what we do without the support of our civilian employers. The employer and the employee relationship is huge, and a very large part of how we can continue to serve in the reserve," he said.