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Blue Angels take over the tarmac in Eau Claire

LAKE MILLS — There are “local boy makes good”
stories, then there is the ongoing tale of Lake Mills’ Steven Hart, who
has achieved the level of crew chief for the U.S. Navy Blue Angels
Flight Demonstration Squadron in just a few short years. Hart, age 25
and a petty officer second class in the U.S. Navy, was born in
California but spent his youth — kindergarten through high school — in
Lake Mills. He graduated from Lake Mills High School in 2007, with
extensive participation in the school’s soccer and wrestling programs.

In an interview with the Daily Times Wednesday by
phone from Eau Claire as he prepared for the Chippewa Valley Air Show
this weekend, Hart, an aviation electricians mate in the Navy for eight
years, fondly recalled his time in Lake Mills. He
also described his key
role in one of the aviation world’s most respected organizations and
looked to his future with the military. Hart noted he likes to return to
his old hometown to visit family and friends when he can, and did so
just a few weeks ago when the Blue Angels performed at Rockford Airfest
in Rockford, Ill.

“Living in Lake Mills, with Rock Lake right
there, was a good time,” Hart said. “It was all-around fun. I was active
in sports the whole time.”

Hart said he signed up to serve in the U.S. Navy
between his junior and senior years in high school, and within two weeks
of graduation was in boot camp.

He said his family has a history in the armed
forces, with his father and brother serving the country, and Hart said
he is honored to be doing the same with the Blue Angels, a
combination
of Navy and Marine members.

“I am proud to now be representing Navy personnel around the world,” he said.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Chester W. Nimitz
ordered the establishment of the Blue Angels in April of 1946. An
estimated 11 million spectators view the squadron during air shows each
year.

A total of 17 officers and nearly 110 enlisted
men and women serve with the Blue Angels. The team consists of both
active-duty and full-time support sailors and Marines, with each team
member serving a two- or three-year tour of duty.

Based at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., the
team travels an average of 300 days a year, performing flight
demonstrations across the country. Since their inception, the Blue
Angels have performed for more than 495 million spectators. They are
scheduled to fly 65 performances at 36 locations in North America this
year. The Blue Angels currently use F/A 18 Hornets and a single Lockheed
Martin C-130 Hercules — affectionately known as “Fat Albert” — in
their air shows.

Hart said he has always been interested in aviation, so the Blue Angels team is a perfect fit for him professionally.

“I knew that aviation was never going to go away and ultimately I want to become a pilot,” he said.

After serving in the Navy for a few years, Hart
became a member of the Blue Angels at the end of 2012, following a
rigorous application process. He said among other things, he survived
the interview stage, then learned he was able to “mesh” with the team’s
members — something deemed of great importance to a group whose members
rely on each other in extremely dangerous situations.

Hart called being in the Blue Angels “awesome”
and said he likes being able to travel the country representing the Navy
and Marine Corps, showing pride and professionalism, and being a role
model for youths and others who come to see the shows.

Hart said a typical non-show day for him during
the flight season, which spans March to early November, includes his
extensive checking of show jets, their instruments and engines.

“We do demos and checks — hopefully nothing
breaks,” he said. “Whether we are on the road, or at home in Pensacola,
things are somewhat the same. We have 30 to 40 maintenance people who
are working with us.”

Hart travels to shows with his crew on “Fat
Albert,” along with the team’s equipment. Hart said one of his favorite
parts of his job as a crew chief for the Blue Angels is walking among
members of the crowd at shows.

“I like to inspire the people who come to see us,
whether it is the youth or the older people. I like to take pictures
with the members of our fan base,” he said.

Hart said there are few aspects of the job he doesn’t like.

“There really is no ‘least favorite part’ of my
job,” he said. “Being away from my family is hard, because we do have a
very arduous schedule. We have the show season and then from January to
March we are training in El Centro, Calif., so it is busy throughout the
year. But I do get some breaks here and there to go on leave. Then I go
home to Pensacola.”

Hart acknowledged his job can be a dangerous one.

“But with all the practices we conduct and the
safety precautions we take, it is as safe as we can make it,” he said.
“But like anything, it can turn dangerous.”

Hart said he is confident in his ability to be a
good crew chief who is trusted by his ground-based colleagues, as well
as Blue Angels aviators.

“Once you are in your routine, muscle memory
takes over and it becomes natural,” he said of his job. “We are a team,
but even more, we are a family. We all work together to make our lives
easier. There is a tremendous amount of trust in the crews and pilots.
They put their lives in our hands.”

Hart said he aspires to one day become a Blue Angels jet pilot.

“There are a lot of hurdles to my getting there,”
he said, noting he needs to complete his bachelor’s degree. He must
then undergo two years of flight training and complete substantial
required flight hours.

“I am optimistic I can accomplish all this,” he said.

Somewhat surprisingly, Hart has never flown in
one of the Blue Angels show jets as a passenger. He said it is a very
special thing for a crew member to take a flight in one of the F/A 18
Hornets they care for each day. They do not get to do so until their
third year with the Blue Angels. Hart’s special flight will take place
sometime this year before the end of his run as crew chief.

“I am definitely excited to get a taste of it — experiencing what it’s like to fly. It’s a very big deal,” he said.

Hart said the Blue Angels organization is a huge recruitment tool for the Navy and Marines.

“We go to high schools and other places and speak
to 10 people or 10,000 about who we are and what we do,” he said. “We
do community service in Pensacola, as well.”

Hart’s volunteer community service time in Florida is spent with the Humane Society.

Hart said any youth who wishes to become part of the Blue Angels should focus on discipline.

“They should definitely stay in school and make
sure they hang out with the right crowd,” he said. “They should make
sure they get good grades and don’t do any drugs. They should get a
college degree and excel in what they try to do — try to be the best.”

Hart said he will miss the job when his stint
with the Blue Angels expires later in 2015. He will then transfer to the
state of Washington to continue his service in the Navy fleet.

“I will miss going to the air shows and talking
to the youth and older people,” he said. “That is definitely a fun time
and it will be missed.”

Hart said his ultimate goal is to become an aviator himself.

“I want to become a pilot in general and if that
route brings me back to the Blue Angels, that would be amazing,” he
said. “Naval aviation is my top priority.”

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