March Airmen participate in 83rd Hollywood Christmas Parade

U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Russell S. McMillan

Approximately 27 Airmen from March Air Reserve Base, Edwards Air Force Base and Los Angeles Air Force Base participated in the 83rd Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade on November 30.

The Hollywood Christmas Parade is an annual event in the city of Los Angeles that attracts attendance of nearly one million people. The 3.5 mile parade route includes performances by marching bands from around the U.S., giant balloon characters, equestrian units and more.

This year marked the 13th year the Air Force Sergeant’s Mini Jet Team featured its battery-powered mini aircraft down the red carpet parade route. March Airmen, who piloted some of the five mini F-16 aircraft, also carried with them local children with disabilities or illnesses as part of a community volunteer project from the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

The Air Force Sergeant’s Mini Jet Team is a group of active duty, Reserve and retired Airmen who volunteer annually to take the battery-powered mini jets to events for children with disabilities and illnesses, said retired Master Sgt. Peter Gutierrez, a 33-year veteran Air Force veteran and founder of the team.

“Every year for the Hollywood Christmas Parade we work with Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles to provide us children that are outpatients undergoing radiation and chemo treatments,” added Gutierrez. “Some children have cancer or other illnesses or disabilities that CHLA treats.”

“These events are very fun to do even though we’re spending time away from home,” said Staff Sgt. Jonathan R. Villa Vargas, supply technician, 452nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, Blue Eagles Total Force Honor Guard, March ARB.  “You get a good feeling doing this.”

Despite it raining on parade day, Airmen braved the weather to volunteer for more than eight hours. They pre-positioned five mini F-22 Raptor, a mini P-51 Mustang and a giant balloon character nearly 70 feet tall into place for marching down the red carpet.

“More service members should come out to these types of events so the public can see our faces,” said first-year parade volunteer Staff Sgt. Zakai A. Webster, services technician, 163rd Reconnaissance Wing, California Air National Guard, March ARB.

“We do anywhere from 14 to 26 events a year,” said Gutierrez. “One of our events, [Expo Village] for the Tournament of Roses committee, lasts four and a half days.”

Most of the volunteer opportunities to assist the mini jet team are through the Blue Eagles Total Force Honor Guard, explained Staff Sgt. Brandyn J. Lopez, services technician, 452nd Force Support Squadron, Blue Eagles Total Force Honor Guard, March ARB.

“The Honor Guard gives me the opportunity to do [this] because they give us so many different color events,” added Webster, who helped carry the team’s banner down the red carpet.

“This is my second parade and I had fun last year,” said Lopez as he explained his safety duties for the event for the parade. “Everyone has been accommodating.”

“I’ll never be able to repay the countless selfless people and companies that help keep this program going,” said Gutierrez when referring to all of the volunteer help. “They help us because they know we are not supported with any budget, and they have seen the smiles and heard the laughter of the children; we have made a difference in their lives.”