PACAF’S F-16 Demo Team announcer bids farewell at Iwakuni friendship tour

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Collette Brooks
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

A crisp breeze passes through entertainment booths and the vast asphalt parking lot at the start of the 43rd Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force – Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Friendship Day 2019 at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, May 5. American and Japanese service members move rapidly to set the scene with food stands, various aircraft statistic displays and souvenirs welcoming approximately 165,000 anticipated guests.

Unit patches, hats and t-shirts line the Pacific Air Forces F-16 Fighting Falcon Demonstration Team display table. Demo Team members share laughter, gratitude and conversation with local community members as they purchase memorabilia and discuss their favorite aerial maneuvers and event attractions.

The team members hand out complimentary stickers to passing spectators as merchandise flyes off the table. The event represents an opportunity for host nation community members and guest performers to strengthen their bond through aviation, photography and communication.

“This event allows the demonstration team to thank local citizens and those who traveled, far and wide, in a special way,” explained Staff Sgt. Mario Perez, a 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-16 avionics specialist and PACAF F-16 demonstration team announcer. “The aviation performances and meet and greets symbolize our gratitude and appreciation for this community.”

The tour not only presents a convenient and alluring method for American and Japanese people to come together as one, but it aids in enhancing the Indo-Pacific region’s security and multilateral coalition.

“Interacting with our host nation in this casual and fun setting strengthens our bond in an indescribable way,” added Tech. Sgt. Esteban Ramirez, a 14th AMU aerospace propulsion system specialist and PACAF F-16 Demonstration Team member. “The comradery built during these unforgettable moments instills a partnership which will stand the test of time. It’s important to support each other right now, so we can know how to efficiently work together during adverse times.”

These moments generate connections, said Perez as he described the event's sights and sounds.

“Aside from seeing a mass of individuals laughing, talking and mingling, you can find cameras pointing straight up at the sky toward every passing aircraft,” shared Perez as a smile stretched across his face. “The community takes great pride in photographing our aircraft which, in turn, gives me a great sense of pride because I had a hand in making that happen. The support and graciousness received from locals comes in many forms, but communicating with the community members is my favorite part because it gives them a chance to practice their English while allowing me an opportunity to practice my Japanese and develop a better understanding and appreciation for my counterparts.”

Multiple aircraft lined the clouds draped in front of the coffee-colored mountain range as Ramirez elaborated on the true importance of the event and how both nations benefit from this day.

“We want attendees to see what we do as military members in their country,” explained Perez. “We spend a majority of our day interacting with all types of people. From the youngest to oldest, people come from afar or right next door, and leave a positive and everlasting impression.”

While the crowds’ “ooos” and “aws” filled the air, Perez described the moment as somber, but humbling.

“Since this was my last mission with the demo team, I gave it my all,” Perez added with a disappointed, yet appreciative tone in his voice. “A rush of adrenaline took me over as ‘Primo’, our demo pilot, performed today. I take great pride in being the announcer and an important part of this amazing team. I’ve learned countless life lessons and have grown as a maintainer and person during my time with the demo team.”

Perez wasn’t the only one to end the day on a high note, Ramirez shared the same rush of excitement since he will be the next “voice of PACAF."

“It’s going to be gut wrenching when I’ll have to do this job without him,” expressed Ramirez. “I am grateful for Perez’s support, friendship and knowledge I gained during our time together.”

While the demonstration team built a solid union through comradery, Perez noted his fondest memories were made during these types of community events.

“I’ll never forget the people I started the team with, those who came on mid-way through, current team members and even those I just met today,” reminisced Perez. “It’s been an unforgettable experience and the highlight of my military career.”

As Perez’s tour of duty came to a close in Iwakuni, the team he leaves behind will continue building and sustaining a working relationship with their counterparts and allies. Moving fast to stay competitive fundamentally transforms U.S. military branches from standard to thriving and keeps robust units working toward a common goal of peace and stability in the region.