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Where do we go from here?

  • Published
  • By Maj. Justin Capper
  • MacDill AirFest director
It is many people's disappointment and to some a relief, AirFest 2013 has been canceled.

We are entering a fiscally challenging time, with or without sequestration. Canceling this year's show is economically necessary and I am happy to have had the support of the base commander, Col. Scott DeThomas, to push for the show as long as we did.

With conversations of furloughs and cutting readiness capabilities, air show funding does not make sense at this time. Where do we go from here in this new fiscal environment? Should we continue to fund future air shows and flyovers? The answer is yes and these are some reasons why...

First, and probably the easiest to justify, is recruiting. The military uses air shows to set up large recruiting tents that aim to excite potential Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen. Just a few weekends ago, I personally witnessed 15 recruits raising their right hands and enlisting in front of the thousands of people they promised to defend. The passion of flight is often ignited at air shows, not only for future military pilots, but all pilots. There are more than 600,000 pilots in the United States; many of them choose to fly because a desire and curiosity developed within them due to an experience at an air show. My personal love of flight began at a little air show in Marysville, Ohio, in 1983.
Another important reason for continuing air shows is its local economic impact. International Council of Air shows estimates that MacDill's shows generates between $10-12 million in the Tampa Bay region. Close to 50 private organizations receive a share of concession profits for assisting with the AirFest. Sponsors see the value of the AirFest and choose to spend their money there. Additionally, MacDill's non-appropriated checkbook gets filled during AirFest. These are the funds used for morale, welfare and recreation functions such as golf, bowling, marina and etc.

Finally, the most important reason for us to open our gates to the general public is to make a connection with our taxpaying-voting citizens. Air shows create bonds with the community. A look at MacDill AirFest's Facebook site reveals how excited our community was and how disappointed they are now. These fans all wanted to share the experience of flight and witness what our military can do.

These citizens are the ones that cast their votes to elect people that decide our fates and choose our commander-in-chief. With less than 1 percent of the country choosing a military path, our culture is foreign to most Americans. AirFest is our opportunity to sell ourselves to our purchasers. When the taxpaying voters see and hear stories of pride, respect, honor and tradition, they get a glimpse of our way of life. It is here that people understand why an aircraft costs $200 million and why our 60-year-old tanker fleet, as capable as it is, needs to be replaced.

Citizens not only see the state of being and the capabilities of assets but more importantly, they are given the opportunity to speak with real Airmen proudly standing next to their aircraft. It is here that local civilians feel comfortable asking questions about your job, equipment and your life.

My own desire to fly began after hearing the stories from my uncle, who was a KC-135 pilot, and seeing the camaraderie of his fellow Airmen. By witnessing these relationships, I was inspired to join the Air Force. I have gladly reciprocated my air show experiences by serving as a C-17 demonstration pilot and now as the air show director. I hope that I have inspired someone to join me in the wild blue yonder and that I will be given opportunities to serve in air shows in the future. For those of you that serve or who have served, please share your stories; it makes a difference. Thank you all for your continued support for the 2013 AirFest and MacDill AFB.

Despite its cancellation, there are many people who worked tirelessly for its preparation. I would first like to thank AirFest's key staff: Maj. John Schwartz, 927th Operations Group; Maj. Brent Tschikof, 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron; Maj. Lewis DeMaso, 310th Airlift Squadron; Capt. Justin Alberico, 6th Maintenance Group; Bill Thomas, Caroline Rice and Wendy Foster, from the 6th Force Support Squadron. There are many more people who have worked hard since last July to make this year's show unique and possibly the best Tampa has ever seen.