February 26, 2008 (by Capt. Elizabeth Kreft) - Miss Nevada will trade her crown for a helmet this week as she takes to the skies with the US Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron.
Beginning Monday, Veronica Grabowski, Miss Nevada USA 2008, will live the life of an Air Force Thunderbird for one week.
"Working with the Thunderbirds is a perfect fit for me as Miss Nevada USA," said the 22-year-old pageant winner. "Getting into the community, meeting people and helping out wherever there is a need is one of the most rewarding aspects of what we both do."
Veronica's week began with a tour of the Thunderbird facility; Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will take the sash-wearing and uniform-bearing group to Centennial Hills Medical Center, Shade Tree Homeless Shelter and Ralph Cadwallader Middle School.
Friday she’ll strap into an F-16 Fighting Falcon for a 45-minute flight.
"I'm honestly hoping I throw up," said Veronica. "I asked the pilot not to hold anything back."
Though they may enjoy watching their crowned visitor step out of a jet with an airsick bag, the Thunderbirds really want Ms. Grabowski to walk away with memories of Air Force members excited to serve their country on a daily basis.
"Whether they choose to serve in the military or not, we want every person we interact with to understand that service - to their immediate family, local community or otherwise - can make their world a better place," said Lt Col. Greg Thomas, Thunderbird No. 1 and squadron commander/leader.
"This week Miss Nevada is helping us show our Nevada neighbors that inspired citizens can build a stronger community, country and military."
The world-renown, multi-jet demonstration team is currently home in Las Vegas for their 4-month training season. The new team members practice with the experienced 2nd-year pilots, honing their formation flight skills and learning to fly wingtip to wingtip at speeds reaching 500 miles per hour.
"Veronica will see all sides of our job this week, from flying upside down and dodging clouds, to lending a hand in our local community to inspire change," said Colonel Thomas.
The Thunderbirds, based in Las Vegas Nevada since 1955, fly six F-16 jets in formation and bring their demonstration to communities around the country each weekend from March through November.
When the 130-person squadron takes to the road for jet demonstrations, they always schedule visits with schools, shelters, hospitals and community centers so people on the ground can see what inspires the Thunderbirds aerial feats.
"Sometimes, the public’s only exposure to our Air Force and our military is through the interaction they have with the Thunderbirds," said Staff Sergeant Randy Redman, Thunderbirds’ Chief of Community Relations.
"So, our goal is to leave those we visit in the community with a strong and lasting picture of their local service members; to make them proud of their armed forces and proud of this great nation.2