While many Bowdoin students covered their ears and complained about the fighter jets flying overhead, 16-year-old Tim Landry was standing in line for a flight simulator at his first air show. He had only one word to describe the air show: "Awesome."
Landry had traveled with his father from Poland, Maine to attend the last "Great State of Maine Air show", held at the Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS) this past weekend. Landry came to watch the Blue Angels, the well-known aerobatic fighter jets, and "to see what the Navy is all about" since Landry is interested in enlisting when he is older.
Landry may not know it but he and young people like him are the target audience for the Navy air show. According to Nathan Anderson and Roger S. Duncan, Navy Petty Officers, one of the top priorities of the air show is recruiting, along with presenting a positive image of the Navy to civilians.
"The air show increases public confidence in the military," said Anderson. "It's all about image."
Anderson's comment was echoed by Army recruiter Sgt. First Class Bethanie Mazzaro, who said that while the air show is a recruitment tool, with an average of three to five people enlisting per show, there are other far more effective recruitment methods. Mazzaro, who worked in marketing and sales before joining the military, said that the air show is mostly about "branding, public presence, and awareness."
The most-publicized act of the air show and the highlight for most spectators is the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, a group of six F/A-18 Hornet jets that fly in formation and showcase the skills all Navy pilots possess. According to the air show brochure received by the Orient, the air show also "enhances Navy recruiting and credibly represents the United States Navy, Marine Corps aviation and Armed forces as international ambassadors of goodwill."
John James, the public affairs director for BNAS, stressed that although the Blue Angels are putting on a show, the aerobatic flying is within operational capacities. "There are no stunts," he said, "they are all real moves."
Bob Lezer attended the air show but viewed the aerobatic flying from a picket line outside the front gate of BNAS. As former president and a current member of the Maine Veterans for Peace, Lezer participated in a protest march from the Brunswick gazebo to the Navy base early Saturday morning. Lezer takes issue with the air show's "glorification of war and the military." He cites allocation of resources such as "spending tax payers' money on war machines instead of to meet human needs" as a reason why he protests not only the air show but the military in general.
Lezer's anti-military position does not immunize him from being awe-struck by the Blue Angels. "They are absolutely impressive," he said, "but they are trying to recruit young people into the military." According to Lezer, the jets are "built to destroy. They are war machines, and besides being entertaining, they get people to join the war machine."
For many spectators who traveled to Brunswick this weekend, the Great State of Maine Airshow neither increased their confidence in the armed forces, inspired them to enlist, nor repulsed them by its glorification of the military and war. Laura and Kim Roy of Anson represented many spectators when they said they came only to see the planes and were disappointed by the fog on Saturday that grounded most of the acts. Lisa and Sean Seeley of Poland, Maine said that for them the show is more entertainment than a military event.
Some of the spectators replied positively when asked if the air show boosted their confidence in the military. James and Lucille Roberge of Waterville, Maine, whose son is a Navy pilot, strongly agreed that the show increased their confidence in the armed forces.
One spectator noted that she believed the war in Iraq should stop, but did not let her views interfere with her enjoyment of the air show, especially the flight simulators. "I respect what they do, but I wouldn't join in," said Tania Kitchin of Skowheghan, Maine.
On the Bowdoin campus, the most commonly heard impression of the air show was that it was loud. None of the students the Orient spoke with had ever attended the air show and knew it only by the sound of the Blue Angels flying low over the campus. Many students complained that the timing of the air show, during the first week of classes, was disruptive. Andrew Maloney '10, who has seen the Blue Angels in other shows, said that he likes watching them but finds them irritating while in class.
Charlie Meyer '11 agreed. "They're cool to watch but annoying as hell the rest of the time," he said.
Some students shared the views of the Veterans for Peace and objected to the show. McKay Belk '11 said that the show was wasteful, especially during an energy crisis. He objected to using the air show as a recruitment tool, saying the show helped to "recruit people for a war I think is ridiculous."
Nick Stone '10 cited the consumption of jet fuel as a misuse of resources and objected to the "overt militarism" of the show, but disagreed with the Veterans for Peace protest of the air show. He argued that there are better ways to protest the same problems that the air show embodies and argued that "if you're going to protest the air show you might as well protest the entire military industrial complex."
Other students agreed with the mission of the air show. Meyer and Alex Yates '11 had no objections to using the air show as a recruitment tool. Yates said that the show was "obviously militaristic," but was not sure to what extent that was a problem. Archie Abrams '09, who said that he "absolutely hates hearing the air show," said that he thinks that the recruitment aspect of the air show "keeps the Navy all-volunteer, which is preferable to a draft."
Alex Yates is not bothered by the noise of the low-flying jets. "The planes are loud but not significantly more loud than college students."