F-16 Thunderbirds


By Dario Leone
Feb 19 2017
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As Thunderbirds chief enlisted manager, Hughes will provide advisory skills to the commander about aircraft maintenance and be the enlisted force manager for two years

Upon enlisting as an F-15 Strike Eagle crew chief in 1997, Chief Master Sgt. Jason Hughes, 23d Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS) chief enlisted manager (CEM), dedicated 20 years to servicing six airframes.

Now, as explained by Airman 1st Greg Nash, 23d Wing Public Affairs in his article Newest Thunderbird continues Moody legacy, he’s accomplished another aspiration by becoming the newest member of the U.S. Air Force (USAF) Thunderbirds.

“I’m humbled beyond words and the excitement is overwhelming in a great way,” said Hughes. “The Thunderbirds are the face of the Air Force and the chance to help tell their story and all of our individual stories to inspire and attract future generations of Airmen is the most exciting thing.”

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Hughes added. “It’s hard to put into words and realize that this is actually happening. I’m excited to represent the Air Force on the grandest stage. It feels like a dream.”

Before this dream became a reality, Hughes was focused on other career opportunities on the horizon. Among these opportunities was the chance to work with the A-10 and rekindle his childhood passion.

Enticed by Moody’s A-10 mission, Hughes landed in South Georgia to be the 74th Aircraft Maintenance Unit’s lead production superintendent.

After many years of contributing to the Flying Tiger’s historic heritage and achieving several milestones, Hughes says the stars finally aligned to pursue another challenge. As the chief enlisted manager at the 23d AMXS, he saw an opening for the same position for the Thunderbirds and felt compelled to apply.

“I applied and had to go through a phone interview and then was asked to come to an air show and interact with the [Thunderbirds] team for another interview,” said Hughes. “I was nervous and excited the whole time but, no matter the results, I viewed it as an opportunity to interact with the best of the best in the Air Force. They were very professional, yet awesome and fun to be around. I wanted to be able to experience that camaraderie.”

Chief Master Sgt. Jason Hughes, former 23d Aircraft Maintenance Squadron chief enlisted manager, poses in front of an A-10C Thunderbolt II, Feb. 10, 2017, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga.

According to Hughes, this esprit de corps was reminiscent of the Flying Tiger’s. The people, leadership, impact of the mission and support from the local community reminded him of his favorite assignment as a Moody Airman, which he credits with preparing him for his transition.

“The mission tempo at Moody forces you to be at your absolute best,” said Hughes. “You can’t get done with one thing without preparing for two more. We’re a very busy, well-oiled machine that maintains a high standard. We’ve generated the best aircraft and personnel and have a track record of success to get the job done. I want to bring Moody’s culture of excellence and extend it to the Thunderbirds.”

As the incoming Thunderbirds CEM, Hughes will provide advisory skills to the commander about aircraft maintenance and be the enlisted force manager for two years.

“I’ll be guiding Airmen in career fields I’ve never had close interactions with but it will be a fun challenge that I’m looking forward to,” said Hughes. “It will help broaden my experiences because I’ll not only have to get more acquainted with various jobs but also help the Airmen progress in their career to be successful not only as Thunderbirds but for their future endeavors as well.”

Hughes will take on the role of managing 120 enlisted personnel spanning from 25 various career fields. Upon arrival with the team, he’ll also will reunite with a familiar face, former Moody A-10 pilot, Capt. Erik Gonsalves, Thunderbirds narrator pilot.

According to 23d AMXS commander, Lt. Col. Bobby Buckner, this reunion highlights what Moody is achieving.

“It’s amazing what the base is accomplishing and it shows that we’re executing [23d wing commander] Col. Kunkel’s priority of developing courageous leaders,” said Buckner. “We’re building world class leaders and it reflects in the results of what our people are doing. Both Gonsalves and Hughes deployed with [the 23d AMXS] and were tested in combat operations, deployment operations and exhibited excellence at home station on a tough ramp. It just shows that they’re deserving. “

While Hughes doesn’t foresee what the future may hold, he says he’s honored to have been entrenched in the fight for Moody’s A-10 mission and that he’ll fully cherish the opportunity of donning the prestigious Thunderbird flight suit.


Photo credit: Senior Airman Daniel Hughes, Airman Gregory Nash and Charles Ramey / U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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