ST. MARTIN, MS (WLOX) - Automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, grounded the Blue Angels this year. With no air shows to put on, the elite pilots and their crews are focusing on another part of their mission -- community outreach and recruiting. On Friday, several Blue Angels, based in Pensacola, made their first visit to a Jackson County school.
"Do you know what the Blue Angels are?" Captain A.J. Harrell asked the crowd in the cafeteria.
"Yeah!" the students shouted in response.
Of course they've heard of the Blue Angels. Two years ago, the daredevils of the sky wowed the crowds with their spectacular high-flying stunts at Keesler Air Force Base.
"It was really cool. I've seen them probably when I was 10 years old in Little Rock, Ark. I thought it was awesome, and they actually made me inspired to join Air Force ROTC," said St. Martin High Senior Christina Pollan.
And despite budget cuts this year, the Blue Angels are still continuing their mission to inspire the next generation of pilots, sailors, and marines.
Captain Harrell spoke to about 200 science and ROTC students at St. Martin High School.
"I'm a Marine, a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps. I fly Fat Albert, the C-130 for the Blue Angels," Harrell told them.
He said this community outreach is the silver lining after sequestration.
"It's canceled our 2013 season. So we're not traveling to show sites and doing our flight demonstrations as we typically do throughout the year. But our mission still remains: Our enhancement of recruiting and being a goodwill ambassador for the Navy," said Harrell. "Although we personally miss the flying, there's still a job to do."
He told the students how he landed on the team of such highly-respected pilots. Members of the Blue Angels maintenance and support staff also explained their roles behind-the-scenes.
"It was really nice. We got to learn a lot about how the Blue Angels work and the engineering behind a lot of it. I also got to learn a little bit about the Navy and Marines," said St. Martin High Senior Jared Ladner.
"There's always some that have entertained the idea of flying and doing different things, and the military is a great place to pursue those dreams. So hopefully, what we say here today may plant some seeds or inspire some people," said Harrell.
During the presentation, military recruiters also encouraged the students to consider careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.