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F-15 West Coast Demo Team performs at RIO NEGRO

  • Published
  • By Capt. Nathan D. Broshear
  • Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
RIO NEGRO, or "Black River" in Spanish, is the premier air and trade show in Colombia. This weekend, the event also served as the stage for the F-15 West Coast Demonstration Team's spectacular display in front of a Latin American crowd estimated at more than 100,000.

Capt. Sam Joplin, an F-15C pilot with the West Coast Demonstration Team at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., stepped to his jet this weekend as children from local orphanages, wounded veterans, media and local citizens cheered "Efe Quince!" (or "F-15" in English). Crowds packed the Cordova International Airport and lined local hillsides just to get a glimpse of the jet as it performed its aerial acrobatics. But for some locals, the performance could not have been closer to home -- or their hearts.

"For our team to perform in front of this enthusiastic audience is an honor," said Capt. Joplin. "This unique venue allowed us to put VIP groups front-and-center of the pre- and post- flight activities."

Visitors hosted by the demonstration team and participating Airmen included Fundación El Maná, or "Gift of God Foundation," a local charity assisting underprivileged children, the nearby ALDEAS SOS orphanage, wounded veterans from the Colombian military, Colombian Air Force cadets (similar to Junior ROTC) and international media outlets.

"The people of Colombia were very interested in learning more about the F-15 and the U.S. Air Force during RIO NEGRO," said Captain Joplin. "In turn, Airmen were able to learn about the Colombian military, local citizens and the plight of orphaned and abandoned children in Latin America."

Accompanied by Colombian Air Force members, the Demonstration Team handed out books, stickers, patches and other mementos to children as they toured various charitable organizations. Then, Captain Joplin's team invited the groups to the air and trade show venue where guests took pictures with Airmen, toured the KC-10 Extender static display and watched the F-15 demonstration from exclusive seats.

Airmen at air and trade show volunteered by the dozens to assist in the visits, creating a memorable experience for hosts and guests alike. "The only time these energetic kids sat still was during the F-15 demonstration," joked Senior Master Sgt. Liz Reddish, a fuels superintendant from Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

Virtually every participant found the interaction deeply touching, said Sergeant Reddish. "They were completely mesmerized by the aircraft -- afterwards it was hard to say goodbye as every one of the children kissed and hugged Airmen for more than 20 minutes," she said.