Millions of people witness the precision aerobatic performances of the Thunderbirds annually, but few ever get to be part of the team.
Staff Sgt. Darlene Seltmann, 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, was selected to the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron and will be transferred to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, where she will become a Thunderbird.
“I was in shock after I was notified I was selected for the position,” Seltmann said. “A couple months ago I was taking photos of the Thunderbirds at our air show, and now I will be part of that team. It was such a rush of emotions. I remember sitting in my car crying because I was overwhelmed with happiness.”
In August, Seltmann will join the more than 120 enlisted Thunderbirds from a broad spectrum of Air Force specialty codes.
“Staff Sergeant Seltmann was selected because her records showed that she had a great breadth of experience as a photojournalist,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Martinez, U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron chief enlisted manager. “She will be doing the same job as she currently does at Luke, but with the added possibility of flying in the backseat of the F-16 Fighting Falcon to capture images.”
Seltmann was initially hesitant to apply for the position with the Thunderbirds.
“I really didn’t think it was possible for me because I have three children at home and my husband is also enlisted,” she said. “I contacted one of the team’s photojournalists to ask about the frequency of TDYs and such, and I found it wasn’t as bad as I thought.”
After conversations with her leadership and husband, Seltmann decided to apply.
“My husband always supports me and pushes me to be the best I can be,” she said. “I might not listen to him as often as I should, but he is one of the main reasons I’ve been successful.”
While the selection process is highly competitive, every Airman has the opportunity to apply to join the Thunderbirds.
“We have the awesome responsibility of representing more than 700,000 total force Airmen who make up the Air Force,” Martinez said. “The Thunderbirds are just ordinary Airmen executing an extraordinary mission.”
For those who may dream of being a Thunderbird but feel it is out of their reach, there is hope.
“I couldn’t help but think about how amazing it would be to be a Thunderbird,” Seltmann said. “I honestly didn’t have a clue if I stood a chance. I am glad I took the chance and applied.”
While those flying the jets are often the most visible members of the Thunderbirds, it takes a team to keep the demonstrations on track.
“I am a prime example as a photojournalist,” Seltmann said. “The Thunderbirds’ mission takes pilots, maintainers, schedulers and more. Just like the Air Force, every job is important to the mission. If you want to be part of the team, regardless of your career, apply. I got my dream job, and you could too.”
For more information on the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds visit www.afthunderbirds.com.