June 6, 2010 (by TSgt. Stacy Foster & SSgt. Warren Spearman) - The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds can be seen at air shows across the globe, performing precision aerial stunts and demonstrating the capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
SSgt. Alicia Valenzuela, 51st AMS, prepares for an incentive flight during a previous assignment to Paya Lebar AB, Singapore. SSgt. Valenzuela was recently selected to join the U.S. Thunderbirds team. [USAF photo]
Before any of them take to the air, a team of more than 130 enlisted Airmen in 25 different career fields ensure each of the six demonstration fighters are maintained and ready.
One of Osan's own Airmen will become part of that team, when she reports to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., home of the Thunderbirds, in December.
Staff Sgt. Alicia Valenzuela, with the 51st Maintenance Squadron, was selected to join the elite team recently, after submitting her package for the third consecutive year. Due to previous assignment commitments, she was unable to join the team the previous two years.
"Once I received orders to Korea, I submitted my package as a follow-on assignment," Sergeant Valenzuela said. "I was relieved when I received an email stating I had been accepted."
Sergeant Valenzuela credits a former coworker, Tech. Sgt. Joseph Michel, now part of the Thunderbird team, with part of the motivation to apply.
"He told me about the program and asked me if I would be interested in applying for a position," she said. "After hearing about how much he enjoyed it, I was ready to apply."
Another motivating factor was the increased travel opportunities that come with the job. The Thunderbirds team routinely travels around the world each year to perform flyovers and demonstrations in air shows.
"My career field has given me the opportunity to travel, so I'm used to that," she said. "But being with this team will give me even more opportunities to see the world, which I'm very excited about."
Sergeant Valenzuela will be expected to learn more than just her current specialty, fuel systems, in order to fill the roles of other members of the team, if necessary. Team members participate in a 21-day orientation period in which they are evaluated on the team's history, rules and regulations, and duty performance.
"Although I currently work in fuel systems, I've maintained the F-16 for my entire career, and actually prefer it," she said. "I've also had some work in depot maintenance, doing crash damage repair and investigation."
Master Sgt. Bill Blalock, Sergeant Valenzuela's section chief, said the Thunderbirds will be gaining an excellent addition to the team.
"Sergeant Valenzuela excels in aircraft maintenance and is often the go-to person for system knowledge questions," he said. "Additionally, she studies hard and has completed more than 30 hours of professional military education."