A big hug awaited Blue Angels Lt. Julius Bratton on the tarmac at Millington-Memphis Airport.
Bratton kneeled and embraced 4-year-old Ava Amerine, who ran out to greet him after he and Lt. Cdr. Adam Kerrick dismounted from their F/A-18 Hornet moments after 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 2.
Bratton and Kerrick, part of the U.S. Navy’s elite precision aviation squad, made a stopover in Millington to promote the Blue Angels’ upcoming appearance at the 2020 MidSouth Airshow June 20-21.
Lauren Amerine of Lakeland brought her daughter to the Millington airport to greet family friend Bratton, who served with Ava’s father at Naval Air Station Lemoore in California. Ava was one of 100-plus well-wishers who turned out in a downpour to see two of America’s 16 Blue Angels in the flesh.
“She hadn’t seen him in the Blue Angel role, so she was surprised to see him,” Ava’s mother said.
The trip to Millington was part of the Blue Angels’ preseason schedule to promote appearances at air shows around the country. The officers, smartly dressed in blue flight suits, spent the better part of an hour shaking hands and posing for pictures with fans.
Michael Bures, 68, of Rosemark brought two daughters, six grandchildren and other family members to see the celebrated aviators.
“I grew up a military brat. I’ve seen them at almost every opportunity for the past 68 years,” Bures said.
“It was just always a symbol of America and a symbol of a strong military, both of which I appreciate,” said the retired FedEx employee. “Precision airmanship is something I’ve come to appreciate as an adult.”
The visit was to have included public viewing of a flyover of the airport, but low cloud cover obscured the plane until it landed and taxied toward the waiting throng.
Bratton said, “It was beautiful above the clouds, and below the clouds it makes you earn your flight pay for sure.”
The Blue Angels will again be the centerpiece of the Memphis area’s biggest air show, which has changed names and management since it was last held in 2017.
The Millington-Memphis Airport is organizing the air show as a community event, airport executive director Roy Remington said.
“In 2017 we had an outside party come in and put it on. This year, we’re doing it ourselves. It should be a good show,” Remington said.
“We have the Blue Angels, and we’re extremely excited. Their tie-in is with Naval Support Activity Mid-South. They employ 7,000 people here in the Millington area, and they’re the headquarters for the Navy Recruiting Command. That’s the primary mission for the Blue Angels and they’re here to help support that.”
The airport severed ties with Air Show Network, which produced previous iterations of the event called the Memphis Airshow, Remington said. Mark Lovell’s company Universal Fairs is producing the 2020 show.
“The Blues are so important to this community and so important to Naval Support Activity that we couldn’t see them disappear, so we fought to keep them and make sure that the show went on,” Remington said.
The Blue Angels are among more than a dozen performers booked for the show. Others will include an F-22 Raptor tactical demonstration, a World War II era P-51 Mustang fighter, local aerobatics performer Skip Stewart and the Phillips 66 Aerostars, a four-person aerobatic team.
“The F-22 is a fighter with thrust vectoring, so it can actually slide in the air and do all kinds of interesting things during the performance,” Remington said. “The P-51 Mustang will perform what’s called a heritage flight with the F-22 Raptor, so you’ll see modern-day jet fighters flying right alongside a World War II fighter. It’s a pretty beautiful display.”
Tickets are on sale at midsouthairshow.com.
Kerrick, a 2005 Naval Academy graduate and member of the Blue Angels since September 2018, said, “We are very much looking forward to coming down here and seeing our brothers and sisters in Millington and putting on a great airshow for y’all.”
Bratton, who is from Woodlawn, Tennessee, in Montgomery County, said, “We’re very excited to come here next June and showcase the pride, professionalism, teamwork and precision of the Blue Angels.”
Bratton graduated from the Naval Academy in 2011 and joined the Blue Angels in September.
Kerrick said, “We’re just regular aviators from the rest of the fleet. It’s our honor to be here to represent the over 800,000 men and women that make up the Navy and Marine Corps team around the globe. I won’t say we’re special, but we’re glad to be here.”
The Blue Angels are a recruiting tool for the Navy and Marine Corps, helping expose the public, and especially young people, to their mission.
“Of course, part of that is inspiring a culture of excellence and service to country,” Kerrick said. “So the recruiting piece, it fits in with providing an outstanding team to defend this country. You’re going to need outstanding recruits. And that’s our mission, to inspire that in young people.”
Bratton added, “For me personally, what motivates and energizes you is, we don’t know it when will we see it, but we are interacting with our replacements. The future of … the Navy, the Marine Corps, the future defenders and protectors of what we believe in, that’s probably the most rewarding part of it.”