Air Force flyover grounded for holiday event

The Eagle Point National Cemetery will host its annual Memorial Day ceremony to honor veterans. Politicians will speak. Patriotic songs will be sung. And "Taps" will be played.

But the roaring Air Force jets that usually fly over the ceremony will be missing — their absence the result of one of the numerous budget cuts imposed on March 1 by federal sequestration.

"I don't approve of it," said Pat Allen, president of the Pacific Northwest Old Guard Riders, an organization that assists veterans. "I think it's a real important part of Memorial Day."

The ceremony at Eagle Point National Cemetery will include two other types of flyovers, bi-planes and a helicopter, said Vonna Hangaard, the administrative officer for the cemetery. But she said not having the jets is "a loss."

"I know that people absolutely love them," Hangaard said. "I understand budget cuts, but it's Memorial Day — a special day for veterans."

The Air Force completed about 1,000 flyovers nationwide last year as a part of ceremonies, community events and air shows, said Pamela Friend, a public affairs specialist for the Air Force at the Pentagon.

The budget sequestration, which came after Republican and Democrats in Congress could not reach a budget deal, enacted the first of $1.2 trillion in across-the-board, automatic cuts to both military and domestic programs. Unless a deal is reached, the cuts are scheduled to continue over the next 10 years.

As part of the sequestration, jet flight training hours were cut by 18 percent, or about 203,000 hours, Friend said. Flyovers were always incorporated into training, but now pilots' training hours will focus on combat readiness, not public engagement, she said.

The flyover cuts will be in effect until the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30, Friend said. Restoring them will be looked at then, she said, but noted that the sequestration cuts are scheduled for a decade.

"We do not know for sure in FY '14," Friend said. "Everything will be looked at on a year-to-year basis."

That means for this year at least, Independence Day revelers won't see flyovers at local parades, either. Both the Ashland and Central Point parades have in the past included flyovers.

"People love it," said Jennifer Boardman, manager of Central Point Parks and Recreation Department. "I know they will be really disappointed if they don't come."

Jim Hanley, commander of Medford VFW Post 1833, said fellow veterans will miss the jets at ceremonies this year.

"It was a wonderful thing for people watching them," said the retired Air Force warrant officer who served in World War II. "It's going to be a different type of (ceremony)."

But David Sorensen, commander of American Legion Post 15 in Medford, said the loss of the jets won't dampen the spirit of Monday's celebrations.

"There are other ways we can honor our vets," said Sorensen, a retired Air Force veteran. He said the jets are enjoyable to watch, but believes that people showing up at the cemetery is the most important way to honor veterans.

Officials at the Pentagon and at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, from where most of the jets are launched for local flyovers, did not immediately respond to questions regarding the amount of money the flyover cuts will save.

Allen believes it will be substantial.

"I kind of understand (the cuts) because it's saving money," Allen said. "Jets use a lot of fuel."

The jet that most often completes the local flyovers is the F-15 Eagle, Friend said. It hurtles through the sky at Mach 2 speed, reaching 1,875 miles per hour, according to an Air Force fact sheet. It has a range of 3,450 miles. And it can hold 36,200 pounds of fuel, the fact sheet said.

Allen laments the loss of the flyovers, saying they have become a fixture for local ceremonies.

"There's a sense of pride in seeing those planes flying over," Allen said. "It makes me feel proud of this country."

Vince Tweddell is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at

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