Sequestration silences 'sound of freedom' at Utah celebrations

Published: Saturday, Oct. 10 2015 11:06 a.m. MDT

Four F-16 fighters do a flyover as Hill Air Force Base's 34th Fighter Squadron is deactivated at a ceremony at the base Friday. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Four F-16 fighters do a flyover as Hill Air Force Base's 34th Fighter Squadron is deactivated at a ceremony at the base Friday. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal budget cuts known as sequestration will silence the traditional roar of fighter jets at Fourth of July celebrations in Utah this year, including Stadium of Fire.

Maj. Shad Stromberg, a 419th Fighter Wing pilot at Hill Air Force Base, has been performing F-16 flyovers for nine years, treating his neighbors to what they call "the sound of freedom," he said.

"I hope everyone recognizes the sad day," Stromberg said. "We're not going to hear that sound of freedom."

Stromberg grew up watching the F-16s fly overhead at the Clearfield parade with his grandfather. He said he decided to volunteer because he feels like he's taking care of his community and the people who support Hill Air Force Base.

Kari Tilton, chief of public affairs for the 419th, said the Department of Defense directed the unit to cancel public events for the Air Force and all services because of the budget cuts.

The Air Force needed to cut flying hours by 18 percent, or a little more than 200,000 hours, with the remaining hours being prioritized for combat preparation, Tilton said.

People who serve part time in the 419th reserve unit work, live and raise families in the local community, she said.

"It's really a privilege for them to give back by doing the flyovers," Tilton said.

The 419th has flown over more than 20 community parades across the Wasatch Front for more than 30 years, she said.

"We know that folks will be disappointed, but we have our marching orders," Tilton said.

Dave Hardman, president and CEO of the Ogden/Weber Chamber, said the exhibition flights are costly and "produce nothing to national defense."

"I would say that most people who are focused on what we want to do as a country would think that's a good idea," he said.

Hardman said the flyovers are nice for parade-goers but that he'd "much rather them spend (the money) on those things that benefit us."

With the large federal budget cuts, Hardman said the pilots are doing less training than before. The budget cuts, he said, are "a real thing we have to do."

"This isn't even close to the cuts that we need to make as a country," Hardman said. "I think they should be pleased that we're cutting out where we can without harming things dramatically."

Lance Lowry, who regularly attends Stadium of Fire with his family, and said he will be "very, very disappointed" the F-16s won't be flying overhead this year.

"That's our favorite part," Lowry said. "It's so emotional, so powerful and such a patriotic moment, especially when the pilot pops up on the screen."

Paul Warner, executive director of America's Freedom Festival at Provo, said organizers were sad to learn the fighter jets wouldn't be flying this year and instead added some special effects in place of the F-16s.

"That's one of the things I've always enjoyed, the planes coming across," Warner said.

Despite missing the jets this year, audience members will be "overcome with feelings of appreciation for our country and what it means as we conclude with the fireworks we have planned," he said.

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

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