The screeching jets of the famed Blue Angels flight demonstration team are a common sight in Imperial Valley skies in the winter and residents get a more thrilling view at the annual air show. Still, who exactly flies those planes remains a mystery to many.
That veil was lifted on Sun., Feb. 24 when El Centro Regional Medical Center hosted a meet and greet with the squadron outside the hospital’s new medical building.
“We love doing these events, which is why we do them as much as possible,” said Chris Gordon, team public affairs officer. “We like to get our face out there and really meet the community, and to spread why we’re doing our mission here. Our favorite part of doing what we do is meeting the people, seeing the faces of the children when they realize what our job is. When they find it inspiring, that’s priceless.”
The reaction of those attending was summarized by Dennis Gweneski, a retired Department of Homeland Security employee, who said, “It’s awesome. The guys are being real nice and everyone is in a great, social mood. I’m having a lot of fun and really enjoying myself.”
The flight team mingled easily, signing people’s souvenirs, chatting, answering questions about their work and even letting a couple of lucky children try on the high-tech flight helmets. Predictably long was the line for the photo booth in which attendees could take a series of pictures with the Blue Angels and have them instantly printed.
Meanwhile, the festive mood was enhanced by the aroma of fresh kettle corn, an offering of one of several vendors offering snacks and refreshments.
For some the day was a chance to reflect back on their own military careers and catch up with what it’s like serving today. Among those swapping stories with the pilots was Reynaldo Gastelum, a U.S. Army veteran.
“I think it’s a great event, and it’s great for the community to meet the people who represent our strength up close,” Gastelum said. “I served three years in the active Army and it’s great to discuss our experiences with these Navy kids.”
Some took home memories of the event to be shared later.
“The Blue Angels are being very attentive and responsive to anyone who wants to meet them and I’m getting a lot of signatures for my granddaughter to have,” said Gloria, an attendee who did not provide her last name.
For those who want the ultimate Blue Angels experience the free annual Naval Air Facility El Centro airshow will be held on March 16.