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Blue Angels bring world famous act to Guardians of Freedom show

Lincoln, Neb. -- The early morning sun glistened on the wings of the Blue Angels parked on the ramp. Upon entering the gate, spectators observed service members driving in golf carts with gear, setting up equipment, applying sunscreen and passing out water bottles, while vendors constructed their booths and exhibits, arranging merchandise to sell.
 
The crowds wandered through historic aircraft displays, to find the best shaded place to relax in their lawn chairs. The hum of the jet engines and the clouds of smoke drifted into the sky and the aroma of barbecue hovered in the air.

The weekend of Sept. 9-11, the Nebraska Air National Guard, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln Airport Authority hosted the Guardians of Freedom Airshow, bringing the world's best pilots and demonstration teams to Lincoln Air Park.

Col. James R. Stevenson, airshow director and commander of the 170th Group, Offutt AFB, Neb., began planning this event in September 2009 after he was contacted by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels requesting a return to Lincoln, Neb.

"Their offer to return was based upon the great experience they had at our 2006 show," said Stevenson. He added that his goal was to have a safe airshow, improved traffic flow, and stay within the budget.

On Sept. 9, the Blue Angels and other show performers exhibited flying capabilities to families attending the special needs airshow. The unique set up of the tarmac and show catered to families with special needs children or adults. The disabled were able attend a major event without waiting in long lines and maneuvering through large crowds. The main airshow for the general public was conducted on Sept. 10-11.

Lisa Lannin-Clarke, mother of Chayse who is a special needs sophomore at Lincoln East High School, said she appreciated that the Guard provided an event she and her family could easily attend.

Chayse, a Make-A-Wish child, came to the special needs show with both parents, while her brother and sister stayed in school for the afternoon, Lannin-Clarke said. She curled up next to her mom, while sitting in her wheelchair to watch the planes soar through the sky.

"We would not have been able to come if there was a large crowd out here. Waiting in line is a big deal; we have so much extra stuff to carry. It's a lot of work," said Lannin-Clarke.

Lannin-Clarke said it is seldom that she gets to spend one-on-one time with her disabled daughter due to her other two children's school activities, so it was pleasant to spend an afternoon with her husband and daughter.

Gloria German, a mother of a Make-A-Wish child, said she watched the planes practicing from her backyard and decided it would be great for her children to watch the show the day before, so they were not exposed to the large crowds.

"I am so thankful to have the show so close to our home" German said. "The coolest part is watching the kids and seeing the awe in their faces."

On Sept. 10 a crowd of nearly 100,000 filed onto the Lincoln tarmac to watch the full demonstration. Among those thousands of spectators were two Pender High School freshman girls who unveiled their artwork on the nose of a KC-135R Stratotanker.

That was just the opening act of a star-studded lineup that included the U.S. Air Force Academy's Wings of Blue parachute demonstration team, a jet-powered school bus that zoomed across the runway, Warbird bombers and fighters that flew overhead while pyrotechnics burst on the flight line, and a heart-thumping exhibition by the U.S. Air Force's A-10 East Coast Demonstration Team.

The afternoon was capped by the world-renowned U.S. Navy Blue Angels, who showcased their talents in the clear, sunny skies.

On the morning of Sept. 11, a memorial ceremony was conducted on the tarmac, with speeches by Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and Brig. Gen. Daryl L. Bohac. The ceremony gave tribute the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and featured a minute of silence for the fallen on 9/11. An officer of Lincoln Fire and Rescue Department also rang a bell 14 times for the 14 Nebraska Army National Guard Soldiers who have fallen of combat and non-combat related injuries while mobilized to active duty Sept. 11, 2001.

Throughout Sunday afternoon, a more than 100,000 spectators wandered across the hot concrete, watching in awe of the amazing aircraft flying overhead. The audience enjoyed concessions from the surrounding stands while relaxing under umbrellas and lounging in lawn chairs.

"The 9/11 ceremony was the most rewarding event for me personally, because I wrote and coordinated it myself. However, the entire weekend was rewarding and I continue to be awed and humbled by how hard everyone on the team worked to pull this off," said Stevenson. "We were all tired by the week's end, but the results speak for themselves."
Performances by Jessy Panzer, flying a Pitts Special, an A-10 and Heritage P-38 demonstration, and an E-4 and B-52 fly-over were only a few of the acts throughout the weekend.

Miss America 2011, Teresa Scanlan, a native of Gering, Neb., also visited the grounds to greet her fellow Nebraskans and watch the jet streamed sky.

Stevenson said he was asked on numerous occasions why the military provides the airshows and if it is worth the cost.

"The answer was in the faces of the people and particularly the kids," he said.
He explained he was working on last minute details on Saturday during the Blue Angels performance. He looked at the crowd and explained what he saw: "The jets passed overhead and every face of hundreds... was upturned and smiling; the taxpayers, marveling at the skill and professionalism of their military whom they pay to keep them safe."

"And the kids, some eyes sparkling with excitement and some scrunched against the jet noise, who knows what seeds we planted this weekend," he added.

Col. Richard J Evans, commander of the 155th Air Refueling Wing, said the weekend was remarkable and the public complimented the improved organization of parking and traffic control compared to the 2006 airshow.

"We showed off for people from around the region and left them impressed and informed...," he said "We demonstrated once again, we are ready and able for anything and we did it in a dignified manner that fit in perfectly with the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 and our airshow theme, 'Heroes Among Us'," said Evans.

There were very few incidents over the weekend in a crowd probably exceeding 250,000 people, said Evans.

"When something bad happened, we were right there and got things taken care of," said Evans. "That's what makes the 155th ARW so great; we want to get better, even when we're doing really well."

Although it was a noisy weekend, there was fun for all ages.

Evans said, "The overall effort was superb and the results extraordinary."
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