PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. --
White smoke streamed from the tails of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds as thousands of spectators gazed skyward during the 2021 Thunder Over New Hampshire Air Show and Open House, Sept. 11-12.
An estimated 81,000 civilians, volunteers and military personnel enjoyed the two-day event that included aerial performances, static displays, and interactive events with New Hampshire's own National Guard.
The event was hosted by the 157th Air Refueling Wing and came to fruition after two years of planning on the part of New Hampshire’s only Air National Guard base and its community partners. Their goal: bring the community and military members together, while creating an amazing show.
“We really appreciate our community and we’re really excited to share this event with them,” said Col. John Pogorek, commander of the 157th ARW. “It’s really great to be able to showcase our military and show our citizens what our Guardsmen do.”
The 157th ARW last hosted an air show more than a decade ago, in 2007.
“Air shows are here to inspire children to be a part of their community, invest in their community, and we are able to show them that by giving them hands on opportunities here,” said Maj. Shannon Van Splunder, event director from the 157th ARW. “We get to invite the community through our gates and make personal connections with them.”
She added the event would not be possible without community support. Army National Guard, Active-Duty personnel, Reservists, Navy Sailors, State police and civilian volunteers worked together to plan and assist with the experience.
“The air show grants us the opportunity to connect the citizens of New Hampshire and we are grateful for that,” said Col. Todd Swass, vice wing commander for the 157th ARW. “This is a true partnership and they support us every day, so it’s nice to be able to host them here.”
He added that he feels overwhelming gratitude for the invaluable support the community offers as employers, families, and more, to the NH National Guard.
While walking the runway under crystal-blue, summer skies, attendees were treated to more than 30 static aircraft on display. In the air, they were treated to aerial performances by demonstrators that included both the Air Combat Command F-22A Raptor and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration teams. It was also the first time a KC-46A Pegasus flew at an air show.
The crowd cheers echoed as the pilots of each aircraft elegantly displayed their aerial ability throughout the multi-day event.
“This show was absolutely awesome,” said Michael Bailey, a native of Richmond, NH. “Seeing how passionate the guys we talk to are about serving is truly impressive.”
Bailey attended with his wife and two sons.
“We were able to go to one of the planes named after Cheshire County, which is the county we are from, which was very cool,” added Bailey. “The crew was excellent at explaining everything, especially to the kids.”
The show had more to offer than airplanes. Inside the base’s newly remodeled hangar, a number of community groups displayed interactive STEM exhibits, allowing children and adults the opportunity to explore science and technology careers available in New Hampshire.
“This program is exceptionally important to me,” said Pogorek. “I am most excited about this being here and sharing this with everyone.”
He added that, with New Hampshire’s population being the second oldest in the country, this program is inherently important to growth and opportunity throughout the state.
“When you can introduce the interests that spark that excitement in young people, and tie it in to the base, it’s a win-win,” said Pogorek. “Hearing the hopes and dreams they have is inspiring for us all.”
In addition to the displays, the wing held two special observances over the course of the weekend.
On Saturday, the wing unveiled a stainless steel sculpture of the World Trade Center to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In his remarks during the ceremony, Maj. Gen. David Mikolaities, the adjutant general of the New Hampshire National Guard, recalled the legacy of the Guard’s response to that day.
“We began deploying Soldiers and Airmen in an unrelenting pursuit of those responsible,” said Maj. Gen. David J. Mikolaities, the adjutant general of New Hampshire. “Grief is not the legacy of 9/11, our legacy is how this country responded to adversity. Here at Pease the response was almost immediate. The same night we were supporting combat air patrols in American airspace over what would soon become known as ground zero over New York and Washington D.C.”
Following the ceremony, there was an enlistment event, during which a number of new Airmen and Soldiers completed their oath of enlistment into the military. Officers from the Thunderbirds were on hand to administer the oath.
On Sunday morning, a ceremony was held to official name the 157th ARW’s new fleet of KC-46 aircraft. The planes were named after the 10 New Hampshire counties and the cities of Portsmouth and Newington, New Hampshire, where the base I located.
Pogorek spoke at the event and praised the community for the integral role it has played in the wing’s mission as it made the conversion from the KC-135 to the KC-46 over the past several years.
An estimated 80,000 attendees spent time at the base over the course of the weekend. Pogorek said he was pleased with how the event went and was excited the opportunity it provided the base to highlight the many missions, both state and federal, fulfilled by the New Hampshire National Guard.
“Our Airmen and Soldiers are excited to show what they do,” said Pogorek. “They’re proud to serve here, they’re proud to serve overseas, and to share all of that with our fellow citizens is such a wonderful experience.”