Heard assumes command of Thunderbirds squadron

By Staff Sgt. Stephanie Englar

United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron

Lt. Col. Jason Heard assumed command of the United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron from Lt. Col. Christopher Hammond during a change of command ceremony held at the Thunderbird hangar here Jan. 6.

“Today we start the next chapter of history as command of the Thunderbirds changes from Lt. Col. Chris “Reggie” Hammond to Lt. Col. Jason “Shifty” Heard,” said Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, 57th Wing Commander. “Not only will “Shifty” command the Thunderbirds, but he will also lead the formation. This commander-leader role is unique to the Thunderbirds and requires not only great leadership skills, but also incredible talent and the ability to build trust across the entire team.”

As the Commander of the Thunderbirds, Heard will have the unique dual responsibilities of commanding a force of commissioned officers and 120 enlisted service members assigned to the squadron, while also flying the number 1 jet and leading all demonstration flights that demonstrate the power and precision of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

“To me, service as a Thunderbird is both an honor and a privilege…it requires significant sacrifice rewarded by the trust our fellow Airmen place in us to represent them to the public,” said Heard. “I promise to provide adaptive leadership, maintain the standards, and fly a safe show.”

Being the Commander/Leader of the Thunderbirds is Heard’s twelfth assignment in the Air Force.

“When I was very young my parents made a lasting impression on me about the importance of serving your community, and that military service is a rewarding avenue to give back to our great country,” said Heard. “In the early 1970s, my dad was a Navy SEAL and I grew up with stories about his service in the Navy.  Since he was a SEAL, as a kid I was also provided the benefits of the things he learned in the Navy, including cold water training and swimming out so far in the ocean you couldn’t see land….so I think you’ll find it as no surprise that I joined the Air Force!”

Heard graduated from Kempner High School at age 16 and joined the Air Force in 1999 after attending the University of Texas where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering. His first job in the Air Force was as an F-15E Weapons System Officer.

In 2004, Heard decided to become a pilot and attended joint undergraduate pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. He subsequently served in operational F-15E squadrons as an instructor pilot and evaluator, led an F-15E squadron in combat as expeditionary squadron Commander, and served as the Director of Operations of the 492d Fighter Squadron on RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom.

All Thunderbirds officers typically serve a two-year tour of duty. To ensure continuity and a smooth transition, three of the six demonstration pilots typically change each year. Since the team’s inception, over 325 officers have worn the distinguished emblem of “America’s Ambassadors in Blue.” Through selfless dedication, a desire to excel and a constant commitment to improvement, these leaders have channeled their efforts into making the Thunderbirds what they are today. The Commander/Leader, Thunderbird 1, is known to the team affectionately as “Boss”.

“I am humbled, honored and proud to be the 35th Commander/Leader of the Thunderbirds,” Heard said. “As I look at our amazing aircraft I’m inspired to take our mission on the road. However, it’s not the aircraft that I’m most excited about, it’s the men and women of this team, I can’t wait to work with you every day over the next two years.”

Heard said that it is working with the tremendous Airmen who come in every day with positive energy and exceed expectations that make him excited to be Thunderbird 1.

“Every pilot loves to fly, but my favorite part of this job is being involved in a mission that is so positive and inspires so many people,” Heard said.

Colonel Heard and his Thunderbirds team are planning to execute 74 demonstrations in 38 locations during 2017. To learn more about this year’s season, visit http://afthunderbirds.com/site/show-season/


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