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Volunteers make the Blue Angels practice shows happen

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Debbie Naylor, right, a volunteer at the National Naval Aviation Museum, entertains the spectators gathered behind the museum before the Blue Angels practice show Tuesday morning April 27, 2016. Naylor, has more than 2,400 hours as a volunteer at the museum and still works as a flight attendant for a major airline.(Photo: Tony Giberson/tgiberson@pnj.com)
Debbie Naylor, right, a volunteer at the National Naval Aviation Museum, entertains the spectators gathered behind the museum before the Blue Angels practice show Tuesday morning April 27, 2016. Naylor, has more than 2,400 hours as a volunteer at the museum and still works as a flight attendant for a major airline.(Photo: Tony Giberson/tgiberson@pnj.com)

Long before crowds gather to watch the Blue Angels practice on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, a handful of volunteers gather inside the National Naval Aviation Museum and begin preparing for the show.
From directing foot traffic to announcing the show, the volunteers do most everything it takes to accommodate the crowds that swell to more than 20,000 during the peak summer season.
Many of the volunteers are retired military or military spouses, others are longtime Blue Angels fans.
“You have to be crazy enough to want to get up in front of 10,000 people,” volunteer Doug Harrington, a retired Naval aviator, joked Wednesday morning as the volunteers began their day.
Doug announces the shows and his wife Patty, 68, helps with crowd control.
The Harringtons are two members of the tight-knit group of volunteers who work the flight line during the practice shows. The museum has hundreds of volunteers, but only a small group do the shows.
Debbie Naylor, 67, affectionately called “The Delta Queen” by some of her fellow volunteers, has volunteered for 12 years. Naylor is a longtime flight attendant for Delta Airlines and still makes several trips a month working the airline’s Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa, route.
Naylor said she started volunteering because she loves aviation history and wanted to feel the connection to her father and other members of the World War II generation.
The bubbly Naylor is a favorite with the crowds. She is also a favorite with the young Marines who provide security during the shows.
Marine Alejandro Salgado, 25, chuckled Wednesday morning as Naylor encouraged him to eat a muffin before leaving the museum to begin security duty at the show.
“No, no one has ever offered me a muffin while I’ve been on duty before,” he said.
Naylor also brings packages of cookies for the Marines who work the practice shows.
Volunteer Mike Forrester, 68, served in the Air Force as a crew chief on a B-52 before working for John Deere in South Dakota.
“I do get a hard time from some of the guys because I’m Air Force,” he said Wednesday as he prepared to open the show area to a line of waiting visitors.
Forrester said he doesn’t mind the good-natured joking and he loves the volunteer job.
“I get up in the morning and I think to myself that I am one of just a handful of people who get to work this close to the Blue Angels,” he said.
Working with Forrester is retired teacher Carol Atkins, 67. Atkins, who taught history, began volunteering after her husband, a former Navy submariner, died.
“I like being around people and with my background in education I thought this would be a good fit,” she said.
Atkins helps elderly or disabled visitors who might have trouble making the walk from the gate to the flight line. She offers them a ride in a green stretch golf cart that she has named “The Nellybelle,” in tribute to the Jeep on the old Roy Rogers show.
The volunteers have fun, but they also provide an important service, said Mark Robertson, 60, a retired Naval aviator who coordinates the flight line volunteers.
They keep an eye out for any spectators who might be experiencing heat exhaustion, help to move visitors inside if the weather gets bad and keep the crowd updated on any delays or changes in the show schedule.

Mike Forrester, a volunteer at National Naval Aviation Museum welcomes and counts the spectators arriving at museum’s flight line to watch the Blue Angels practice Tuesday morning April 27, 2016.

Working the flight show is also physically demanding, he said.
“It’s not a job that every volunteer can do because you have to be on your feet in the heat of the summer for several hours at a stretch,” he said.
The job also requires quick thinking.
The show was delayed a bit because of weather on Wednesday and the volunteers weren’t sure whether the team would fly.
During the delay, Robertson listened to radio communications and relayed information to Harrington who kept the crowd updated. During the lull, Harrington worked to entertain the crowd with stories about Naval aviation and details about the Blue Angels.
“This can be the hardest part because nothing is happening and everyone is waiting,” he said.
But the crowd didn’t seem to mind the wait once the F-18 Hornets taxied down the runway, turned on the smoke and took off. They cheered, took photos and pointed as the jets streaked through the sky above.
Robertson said he never tires of watching the team practice.
“I love being around it. It’s just a thrill to watch them go down the runway.”
Want to volunteer?
For more information about volunteering at the National Naval Aviation Museum, visit www.navalaviationmuseum.org/get-involved/volunteer/

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