A booming success for Thunder of Niagara and AFR Week

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Steph Sawyer
  • 914th Air Refueling Wing/ Public Affairs

The week of June 4th marked the official observance of Air Force Reserve week here, and simultaneously, a prelude to the Thunder of Niagara International Air Show.

Air Force Reserve Week 2018, hosted by the 914th Air Refueling Wing, was dedicated to the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the United States Air Force Reserve. The week proceeded in a series of events that focused on acknowledging and celebrating the rich heritage of the USAFR. Sharing our history, mission and military pride with the local community, not only serves to demonstrate to the public what we do as Reserve Citizen Airmen, but also allows us to give back to the community for the overwhelming support they’ve given to Niagara Falls ARS and the people who serve here.  

AFR Week commenced with a Heritage Flight to pay homage to our history. The formation consisted of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, a P-51 Mustang, a Vought F4U Corsair, and a C-47 Skytrain. These four World War II era military aircraft flew over the Western New York area for an hour on Thursday, June 7th.

“I came up with the idea to send a very significant formation over the most populated towns in Western New York and add a pre and post media campaign to accompany it,” said Maj. Ben Canetti, Thunder of Niagara Air Show Director.

The goal of the Heritage Flight was not only to celebrate the history of the Air Force Reserve, it was also to inform the public of the upcoming air show in a spectacular and impactful way.

Another significant and memorable event of AFR Week was a mass enlistment ceremony held in front of the mighty Niagara Falls. Participants consisted of both new and current members of the 914th Air Refueling Wing. Wing Commander, Col. Mark S. Larson, greeted and thanked spectators for their support.

Maj. Gen. Derek P. Rydholm, Deputy to the Chief of the Air Force Reserve, administered the oath of enlistment during the official ceremony. The event showcased a momentous and significant occasion in these Reserve Citizen Airmen’s careers, marking either the beginning or a continuation of military service.

Thursday’s events concluded with a concert held in Hennepin Park in the Village of Lewiston, New York with an AFR Week proclamation by the Deputy Mayor. Performing were the U.S. Air Force Heritage Band, The Blue Aces, a band consisting of active duty Airmen vocalists and musicians. The Blue Aces welcomed three student musicians from Lewiston Porter High School out of Youngstown, New York to perform a few songs with them. The concert was well attended by members of the local community and military alike.

Friday was designated as Bosses Day, an ESGR (Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve) event which allows Reserve Citizen Airmen the opportunity to show appreciation to their civilian employers for their continued support.

There was a turnout of 200 bosses from the local community for the event, approximately half of whom were accompanied by their Reservist.  Other attendees were those that have hiring power in the local community and understand the value of hiring employees who choose to serve in the U.S. Military. Mr. Maurice Naylon III, the New York State Western Area Chair for ESGR, played a pivotal role in bringing the group of visitors together.

Bosses Day started with an opening ceremony and ESGR presentation which was followed by an impressive performance by the U.S. Air Force Drill Team. The civilian employers then enjoyed an air show preview and lunch on the flight line. Activities concluded with a concert performed by The Blue Aces.

Saturday morning marked the official start of the 2018 Thunder of Niagara International Air Show featuring an array of military static displays, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activity and demonstration stations, and aerial performances by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds, The U.S. Army Special Operations Command Parachute Demonstration Team -The Black Daggers, American aerobatics pilot, Rob Holland, and many more.

Thunder of Niagara drew an estimated crowd of 93,000 people over the course of three days, Friday through Sunday, a significant increase of spectators from previous air shows on this installation. The large numbers are certainly indicative of the hard work and organizational efforts that went into the planning and execution of both Air Force Reserve Week and the Thunder of Niagara International Air Show.

“My assessment of the air show and our efforts to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Air Force Reserve is that it was an overwhelming success,” said Col. Larson. “I have been to many air shows in the past. This event was truly spectacular and like nothing I have ever witnessed.”

The involvement of the base in the local community during Air Force Reserve Week made a huge impact as far as informing people of the upcoming air show as well as sparking interest in what we do as Reserve Citizen Airmen.

Senior Master Sgt. Jacob Miller, 914th ARW Recruiting Flight Chief, reported a 95% increase in potential leads for new recruits over the course of the air show weekend.

“Of all the air shows I have worked I have to say I think this was the most successful in terms of generating leads for recruiting,” said Miller. “We had roughly 3,000 people visit the recruiting station from Friday to Sunday.”

Overall, the public response to last week’s events has been extremely positive.

“Feedback has been unbelievable,” Maj. Canetti said. “Everyone is begging to come back, and on social media the public is pleading for us to have another air show immediately.”

The enthusiasm shown by the local community can be interpreted as a reflection of the success in the endeavor to make this Air Force Reserve Week and the Thunder of Niagara International Air Show a truly memorable experience for everyone.