HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Becky Austad likely never imagined she'd get to fly aboard an F-16.
"It was amazing and a moment that I'll never forget," Austad said.
With each air show visit, the Air Force Thunderbirds choose a "Hometown Hero" with the help of the local community. The program is meant to highlight an individual who has sacrificed time and effort to improve the community.
Austad was selected for her work with the northern Utah HOPE Task Force. She works as a teacher and facilitator, helping families through suicide prevention.
"I enjoy letting kids know that their life matters," Austad said. "We want them to make choices that put them in a better spot so that they can keep on living."
The Las Vegas-based Thunderbirds travel the country more than 220 days a year, using their skills to help promote the mission of the Air Force. Pilots such as Maj. Caroline Jensen hope their efforts will inspire others and even help with recruiting.
"Just instilling patriotism in a community and hopefully meeting those kids that are one day going to have that spark that one day becomes an Air Force career," Jensen said.
That's exactly how she got started on her path toward a life in the military, she said.
"I was about 13 years old," Jensen said. "I saw the Thunderbirds fly in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and I knew right then and there I wanted to be a fighter pilot."
While six Thunderbird pilots will fly during the "Warriors Over the Wasatch" air show and open house this weekend at Hill Air Force Base, a crew of more than 120 enlisted personnel work together to keep them up and running.
Austad said her view from the back seat gave her a new appreciation for what those in the Air Force do every day.
"It's humbling to know the things that they do for us and for our country, and our families and communities," Austad said.
Admission to the "Warriors Over the Wasatch" air show and open house is free. Hill Air Force Base will open to the public at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday for an open house, with the show starting at 10 a.m. each day. Gates close at 5 p.m.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company