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Thunderbirds visit St. Mary's children

Trevor LaBounty, 2 ½, and Thunderbird Christopher Scheibler plan the trains' next move on the train table. (Photo by Anna Jones)1 / 3
Blake Beck, 2, and Thunderbird Christopher Scheibler play at the train table. (Photo by Anna Jones)2 / 3
10-year-old Ian Tanui and the Thunderbirds discuss airshows. (Photo by Anna Jones)3 / 3

From sky to ground to sky again, the United States Air Force Thunderbirds make it a top priority to find time to visit children, veterans and students. On July 8, four members of the Thunderbirds took some time away from their busy Duluth Airshow schedule to visit Essentia Health-St. Mary's Children's Hospital and spend time with the kids.

"Coming to see the kids is the coolest part of this job," said Daniel Wolfrum, Thunderbird Aircraft scheduler. "We get to travel all over the place, meet all kinds of cool people. It's definitely really fun to come see the kids to share our stories and talk about airplanes with them or whatever they like to do in their spare time."

The Thunderbirds are based out of Las Vegas and train year-round. Their travel time is from March to November and sometimes allows for family members to join them on the job.

"The team is very family-orientated, so if we have the ability to bring them on the road with us, we take advantage of that and spend time with them outside of our duty hours," said Christopher Scheibler, Thunderbird flight surgeon.

When the airwomen and men aren't visiting with the public, they are kept fully occupied. Having only a few days in each new city to complete their duties requires them to focus on training, flying and practicing in order to have a safe airshow.

"I think there is a certain amount of pride that goes with being able to represent the Air Force," Scheibler said. "Our job is basically to be out there with the public and represent all the airmen that are working in all fields of the Air Force, mostly in areas that they can't interact with the public to show the professionalism and training that they have, so there is the certain amount of pride for us to do that and represent the Air Force. Personally, I think it's a rewarding job."

When visiting the pediatrics unit in Duluth, the airmen played with trains and airplanes with the kids and talked with the older kids about the Duluth Airshow.

"We love to get to do it (visit children) if we have the opportunity. Our schedule is kind of tricky, it's very busy each week," Scheibler said. "We also like to go to veterans affairs hospitals to share stories with them. When there's an opportunity and desire for us to meet with people, we jump on it because it's usually some of the most rewarding experiences we get each week."