MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- A secluded table of Airmen in a corner of a ballroom on Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni bellows with laughter as the Pacific Air Forces’ F-16 Fighting Falcon Demonstration Team shares memories after a long day of air show performances. Quickly, these stories transform into words of advice and gratitude from the departing team members to the newly-joined Airmen.
“Welcome to your new family,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tristen Berger, the outgoing demonstration team announcer and engines craftsman. “You will endure some of the hardest challenges and experience the fondest memories with these Airmen on this team.”
Traditionally, the annual Friendship Day air show, held on May 5, signifies the turnover to new Airmen for the aerial demonstration team. For many teammates, this was their first air show, while for others, it was their last.
“I enjoy being a part of a small team and working closely with members in other career fields, which is the reason I wanted to join the team,” said Senior Airman Christopher Welch, the new demonstration team avionics member. “This was my first air show and I am going to love traveling across the Pacific with the team.”
One of the more drastic changes occurring during this show was the coveted demonstration team pilot position, where Maj. Richard “Punch” Smeeding passed the reigns to Capt. Jacob “Primo” Impellizzeri. Both pilots performed a humbling last and first air show performance, respectively, marking the handover of demonstration team pilot roles and responsibilities.
“Punch always told me ‘you will never forget your first air show,’ and after flying this show, I feel amazing,” said Impellizzeri, the incoming demonstration team pilot. “After months of practicing in front of one to two people, performing for a crowd of 210,000 people was awesome. I look forward to carrying on the tradition the previous team established.”
Averaging more than 10 performances a year across the Indo-Pacific region, the demonstration team’s priorities are to showcase dedication to the Air Force and PACAF mission, represent the unparalleled cooperation between the U.S. and its allies and inspire future leaders.
“Being a part of the team, I have met a lot of people, and those people are who made me who I am today,” said Smeeding, the outgoing demonstration team pilot. “I have solved problems alongside the Air Force’s best members, and those people are the ones sacrificing time with their loved ones to get these jets out across the world to perform—and I will never forget that.”
Smeeding left the team with the advice of “don't stay comfortable” and “stay hungry,” while explaining each air show is different, regardless of how many times you performed at it. Each new problem set endured enhances the team’s ability to flex and grow together, resulting in what he describes as the best times he experienced during his tenure at Misawa Air Base.
As the week at MCAS Iwakuni concluded, the roaring crowed faded away while memories continued to flood conversations and heart-filled goodbyes and thank yous shared among every new and outgoing team member.
“We are a family and I look forward to seeing the growth of this team while we continue to work together over the next two years,” concluded Impellizzeri.