Ambassadors in blue

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Six of the most highly-polished fighter jets in the country line Mountain Home Air Force Base's runway with their engines idling, ready to demonstrate the precision of American air power.

With anticipation in the crowd building, the red, white and blue F-16 Fighting Falcons finally race down the tarmac; the vibrations and roar of the afterburners resonate through spectators as they take off - the formation flying as a single, finely-tuned machine.

As the Thunderbird's elite pilots dive, spin and roll throughout the hourlong demonstration in the sky, they captivate the crowd with every maneuver. Watching the spectacle, the audience doesn't think about the massive amount of work that occurred behind the scenes as 120 of the best enlisted technicians in the Air Force prepared the aircraft for the breathtaking performance.

"What you don't see is what goes on behind the scenes," said Master Sgt. Javier Sariñana, U.S. Air Force Air Demonstrations Squadron production superintendent. "The maintenance side of the house comes in early before the open house to inspect the jets, making sure our aircraft are safe and reliable throughout the performance."

Every performance is successful due to the hard work and professionalism each maintainer exhibits making the jets mission capable.

"It's our maintenance professionals in particular who work tirelessly," said Maj. Curtis Dougherty, U.S. Air Force Air Demonstrations Squadron slot pilot. "They're putting in 12- to 14-hour days to make sure the aircraft can execute these shows with the split-second precision we demonstrate in every routine."

The Thunderbirds performed both days during the Gunfighter Skies open house and air show at Mountain Home AFB, challenging maintainers to keep the aircraft in pristine flying condition.

"It's a pretty high-paced tempo once we land for a show," said Senior Airman Ariel Audet, U.S. Air Force Demonstrations Squadron crew chief. "We race to get the jets unloaded, haul the tools and bags off the cargo plane, check into the hotel and then come right back to work. Yes, we get tired sometimes with all the go, go, go - but ultimately it's a big team effort making it easier to keep going at such a fast pace."

The members take immense pride in their craft, honing it to perfection in order to show the Air Force's mission in an extraordinary way.

"Our ground demonstration shows our proficiency, dedication to duty and harmony as a team," said Audet. "Without it, the performance wouldn't be as ceremonial and wouldn't give them insight to the hard work and preparation we all put in to getting the jets in the air."

Since the inception of the Thunderbirds in 1953, crews throughout the years have had one common goal in mind; spreading good will and patriotism throughout the world.

"It's our opportunity as a demonstration squadron to reach out to military and civil communities," said Dougherty. "These performances show the pride and precision Airmen across the globe put into accomplishing their job to protect this country."

The team will have performed 38 shows in 2014. Whether it's for recruitment, to show support to vets or just to show patriotism to military members and civilians across the globe, one thing is apparent, they do it to captivate hearts and minds of spectators while displaying wartime capabilities.

"There's no doubt about it, without maintainers the jets wouldn't fly," said Audit. "From the mission we perform on the ground to the mission in the sky, we maintain a high level of pride and precision needed to make these special moments for the audience."