Thunderbirds' visit motivates Aviation Academy students

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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Justina Wolfe really wants to be a fighter pilot.

But the Denbigh High School Aviation Academy sophomore has had some reservations that her future tattoo plans would get in the way of someday flying an F-35 or F-22.

Luckily for Wolfe, that and other concerns were alleviated during a surprise visit April 22 by pilots from the United States Air Force Thunderbirds team in the school's cafeteria.

She talked with Maj. Alex Goldfein, a Tabb High School graduate who flies the Thunderbirds' No. 3 jet. He pointed out the other members of the Thunderbirds team — a financial management technical sergeant, an aircraft maintenance staff sergeant and a photojournalist senior airman — who have visible tattoos. Wolfe was reassured that her plans are viable.

"I've been wanting to join the Air Force actually since the fifth grade. ... (The Thunderbirds' visit) was amazing," Wolfe said. "It really inspires me to go further into my career choice."

Goldfein spent his senior year on the Peninsula while his father was stationed at Langley Air Force Base, and he was able to sneak a glance down at his former home on the base as he flew in on April 21.

Despite only spending a year here, he said the chance to visit "home" and take part in the centennial celebration and AirPower Over Hampton Roads show was special.

"Another cool show, another great opportunity for the Thunderbirds," Goldfein said. "Hundred-year anniversary with Langley, so it's a pretty cool, kind of historic event. We're psyched to be here and hopefully it'll be one of the best shows of the year, and we'll put on a good one for everybody."

The Thunderbirds began their time at the school with a video that highlighted the work they do while traveling every weekend to a new location for community outreach or aerial performances. Through visits to hospitals, high schools, events for special-needs children and air shows for the public, they try to show the public a bit of what goes on behind military gates.

"I know there's got to be a few folks out there like me that are just intrigued by airplanes, how it all works. I think it's just the coolest thing in the world," Goldfein said while plugging the weekend's events.

Most of the crowd of about 100 students nodded in agreement.

Another student inspired by the visit was senior Lizette Judge. The 19-year-old is swearing in with the Army next week and plans to become a cargo specialist.

Tech. Sgt. Andrew Junker, an air transportation specialist for the Thunderbirds team, talked extensively with Judge about what his duties entail.

"It was actually pretty cool. He helped me figure out the stuff that I'm going to end up being able to do as a cargo specialist and what I'm probably going to go through during basic training," Judge said. "He gave me some tips on what to do."

Junker, Goldfein and the rest of the team that visited hoped to have that sort of impact on all those they interact with over the weekend, whether it be as a recruiting promotion or just entertainment for those in Hampton Roads.

"We want as many folks to come out as possible," Goldfein said. "It's such a neat opportunity. The military shows are the best. ... We have the best military hardware out there."


Information from: Daily Press,

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