Thunderbirds documentary highlights success of "America's Team"

CHAZY The nations veterans were honored as the North Country premiere of Paul Fredericks latest film project, Americas Team: Being a U.S. Air Force Thunderbird, was shown at the Alice T. Miner Museum Nov. 9. The documentary portrays how the Thunderbirds self-sacrificing patriotism and their attention to detail and pursuit of excellence is the foundation of their success as a whole and also behind the success of their first female demonstration pilot, Maj. Nicole Malachowski. The museums director and curator, Amanda Palmer, was one of the privileged few to be invited to a private showing of the film in Mr. Fredericks home shortly after it was completed. Ms. Palmer and her husband became close friends with Mr. Frederick during the time they worked together on the Heritage Exhibit at Miner Institutes Hearts Delight Farm in 2001. While watching the film, Ms. Palmer began contemplating how she could fit the film into the programming at the museum. When I heard Nicole [the first female Thunderbird] speak about her sense of duty to answer every e-mail and letter she receives from her fans, especially those from veterans, I knew we had to have the show on Veterans Day weekend in honor of those whove served, she explained. Mr. Frederick teamed with Paul Cambell to produce the patriotic documentary. The collaboration was actually the second time the pair worked on a Thunderbird film. In 2000, they were part of a team from Mountain Lakes PBS that produced a documentary about the Air Force Thunderbirds. During that time, Mr. Frederick was the chief videographer and editor for PBS, while Mr. Cambell was the development director. When Mr. Cambell learned aviation history was about to be made by the induction of a female fighter pilot, Maj. Malachowski, into the Thunderbirds, he contacted Mr. Frederick and convinced him to collaborate with him on a Thunderbird documentary of their own. This time, it was just the two of them calling all the shots. Mr. Cambell, a former resident of the North Country, is an independent television producer, and found all the funding and made all the arrangements for the project. Mr. Frederick, an independent videographer from West Chazy, performed all the shooting, writing and editing. The two-man team began traveling and videotaping the Thunderbirds in January 2006 and shot their last footage at the seasons closing show on Veterans Day 2006 in Las Vegas, Nev. Because the Thunderbirds are based in Las Vegas at the Nellis Airbase, Mr. Cambell and Mr. Frederick made many trips to Nevada. They also went on the road with the team to shoot air shows in Rhode Island, Montana, Michigan and Vermont. The Thunderbirds welcomed Mr. Cambell and Mr. Frederick as if they were team members themselves. It was definitely fun being around those jets, Mr. Frederick commented, but truly the best part was spending time with the team and becoming friends with them. What impressed me the most about them is their ability to inspire others. Over the course of 11 months, Mr. Frederick accumulated 60 hours of footage he needed to whittle down to just 60 minutes. His objective to honor those in the military and portray them as real human beings with a deep sense of professionalism, patriotism and pride, helped him through the process. In August, the culminating event and test of his work was the premiere of Americas Team at the Galaxy Theater in Las Vegas, with all of the Thunderbirds in the audience. I think we were successful in making this a film for everyone, Mr. Frederick said. It is an inspirational story, a success story wrapped around the Thunderbirds. The film includes plenty of footage of the Thunderbird shows, sure to thrill aviation buffs. The footage includes some thrilling moments taken from inside the cockpit while stunts were being performed. Many interesting facts about the fighter jets were also included. If youve ever wondered just how fast or how high those jets can go, youll find out in this film. The film also includes plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, telling the story of how these young men and women go through an intense process to reach their dream of becoming part of Americas Team. You will not likely see footage of the Thunderbirds high-pressure patching ceremony that inducts the new trainees into the team anywhere but here. There are new inductees each year, as the 12 officers serve only two years, and the 120 enlisted members, three. Nor are you likely to see footage of the yearly meeting between the Thunderbirds and the Navys air demonstration team, The Blue Angels, anywhere else. The officers compete against each other in golf, while the enlisted members duke it out on the softball field. There is even video footage of the humiliating but amusing item the losers have to keep in their hangar until next years game. The film also shows what it takes to successfully put on a 30-minute air show. There are 14 or 15 hours of maintenance work before and after each show, and a huge amount of time spent loading, traveling and unloading. They are on the road for 210 days a year, putting on a total of 70 air demonstrations. The majority of team members are maintenance workers only eight of the 132 are pilots, and only six of them fly in a show. In each town or city they put on a show, the Thunderbirds make a point of reaching out to the community. Paramount to them is taking the time to visit war veterans who are unable to come out and see their show. They tell the veterans just how valuable they are to them and how much their sacrifice for their country is appreciated. The documentary portrays how the Thunderbirds self-sacrificing patriotism and their attention to detail and pursuit of excellence is the foundation of their success as a whole and also behind the success of their first female demonstration pilot, Maj. Malachowski. It is the success story of Maj. Malachowski that is perhaps the most inspirational part of the film. Carefully chosen photos from her familys album capture many aspects of her formative years as does a touching interview with her parents. She was only five years old when she attended an air demonstration show with her father. After watching the F-4 Phantom fly, she declared her intention of becoming a fighter pilot. It was a declaration she never wavered from and at which her parents never blinked. Despite discouraging remarks from a sixth grade teacher, who told her girls couldnt be fighter pilots, Maj. Malachowski educated herself about aviation every way she could. This included joining the Civil Air Patrol and Junior ROTC as soon as she was old enough. After high school, she graduated from the Air Force Academy and her dream of becoming a fighter pilot was soon realized. It is during Mr. Fredericks interview with Maj. Malachowski at her mail-strewn dining room table, she shared what she feels is the most important thing she does as a Thunderbird. She spends Wednesday, her one day off a week, personally answering every letter and e-mail she receives. When stacks of fan mail began arriving, she toyed with the idea of sending out form letters in response, but her big heart wouldnt allow it. Often she writes from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and pays for the postage herself. This stuff re-energizes me, Maj. Malachowski said, pointing to the mail. I am so humbled. About 50 percent of the mail she receives is from children admirers, while a sizable amount is from older women who have been inspired by her to pursue their dreams and World War II veterans who send her letters that often move her to tears. It is through her letter writing she feels she can most effectively motivate young people to be better Americans. Whatever you choose to do, she tells them, pursue excellence. Mr. Fredericks own 13-year-old niece was profoundly motivated after watching the film in her uncles home. Grandma, she said on her way home, I am going to try harder in math so I can become a pharmacist. The film ended with a quote from Executive Officer Captain Todd E. Raymond and a collage of carefully selected photos and short video segments shown to the background music of Lee Greenwood singing God Bless the U.S.A. I get great pride out of serving my country because Im serving as an example to my kids as to what if means to put service before self, Capt. Raymond said. Many in the audience were moved to tears. One woman in attendance had traveled all the way from Rensselaer for the special viewing, and was likely the most moved of all. Carol Pawelek, who grew up in Beekmantown, was given the heads up about the showing from an e-mail sent to her by her sister-in-law from West Chazy. She had good reason to make the long trip her son Adam is a Thunderbird. She was happy he was in the film several times. It was a very thorough film, she said. It was an excellent representation of the Thunderbirds and what they do. In addition to being shown locally and at the Galaxy Theater in Las Vegas, the film was purchased by Public Television to be shown nationwide on public broadcasting stations in early 2008. During the showing at the Miner Museum, Mr. Frederick had several DVD copies on hand, which were produced for sale. Ms. Pawelek was about to purchase one when her brother Scott stopped her. I already got you one for Christmas, he said. Copies of Americas Team: Being a U.S. Air Force Thunderbird, may be purchased on-line at www.amazon.com . The Alice T. Miner Museum, located at 9618 State Route 9, will feature more local talent in the coming months. On Friday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m., the museum is hosting An Evening of Holiday Favorites, with the Waickman family and their friend, Anne Paulson. On Friday, Feb. 15, also at 7 p.m., the museum will welcome back historian Robert W. Arnold III to give his lecture titled, Let Loose the Dogs of War: New York in the American Civil War. Admission to museum shows is $5, with reservations suggested due to limited seating. For more information about any of the shows or exhibits featured the Alice T. Miner Museum, call 846-7336.

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