Most people know about the United States Air Force Thunderbirds via air shows when Rhode Islanders jet, metaphorically, to Quonset to see the Air Demonstration Squadron fly. But not everyone is familiar with the men and women who work behind the scenes.
One of them is Warwick’s own Major Josh Wild, a 1995 Toll Gate graduate who in August was appointed as Thunderbird 10 Executive Officer at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada. He applied for the position and was selected by Gen. Gilmary M. Hostage III, the Commander of Air Combat Command, from a group of about 20 other applicants.
“I was thrilled,” Wild said of his appointment. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We have the ability to represent all 700,000 Total Force Active Duty, Guard and Reserve Airmen. I’m honored to be here. It’s such a wonderful group of people and the mission is unbelievable.”
His parents, Judy and Jonathan Wild, were equally excited. Judy, Warwick’s probate clerk, said they are beyond proud.
“It’s a very cool assignment,” she said. “I visited Las Vegas in November and got to go to an air show. It was my first one. I got to go into the hanger and the Thunderbird museum.”
With 130 members in the Air Force Demonstration Squadron, Wild leads an executive support staff responsible for Thunderbirds cyber/knowledge operations, budget, training and force support actions for Thunderbird 1, the commander/leader.
Additionally, he and the team travel more than 200 days a year, as they visit cities and towns for air shows. They also stop at various locations as part of an outreach program. During his journeys, he’s met children who benefit from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, plus veterans of the Wounded Warriors Project. Witnessing the amazement of people who they meet, said Wild, is his favorite part of being a member of the Thunderbirds.
“When we were down in Miami, we went to a children’s hospital and spent about an hour and a half going room to room and handing out little jets, coins and pins,” he said. “Seeing the reaction of the kids when we came in is just fantastic.”
Before taking the position, Wild served as an operations flight commander for the AFROTC Detachment 012 at Sanford University in Birmingham, Ala. There, he taught leadership classes to students who were interested in becoming commissioned officers.
Wild started his military career in 1999 by joining the Air National Guard and was assigned to the 143rd Guard Unit at Quonset. Upon his return from technical training, he switched to active duty and shortly after was commissioned to become an officer in 2002. He was deployed to Honduras in 2011, where he served alongside the Army as part of Joint Task Force Bravo until March 2012, and also served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2010.
He remembers how “very touching” it was when he returned being greeted by military veterans at the airport. But reuniting with Dee, his wife of 13 years, and their three children, Madison, 13, Jaiden, 11, and Quinn, 7, is one of the greatest feelings he’s experienced.
Previously, he was studying special education at Rhode Island College but felt unsure about what he wanted to do with his future.
“A couple of friends of mine had joined the Guard in Quonset, and they recommended I go see a recruiter,” Wild said. “I went and I liked what I heard, which is why I initially joined the Guard. I intended on coming back and finishing school, but I went to basic training and just loved it. When I returned, I switched to the active duty side.”
He continued, “That’s the thing that’s great about being on the team. We get an opportunity to tell that story to people who don’t really understand how hard it is to leave for seven months and miss everybody’s birthday and miss Christmas. But my family is extremely resilient. My wife comes from a military family and she was in the Air Force for four years.”
Wild met Dee while they both served in the Air Force. She was honorably discharged as a Staff Sergeant around the same time he was commissioned.
“She’s extremely supportive and knows the sacrifice that we make to do this,” Wild said.
He and his family relocated to Las Vegas in August. His children, he said, especially enjoy living in Vegas, but they are Rhode Islanders at heart.
“We are a hockey family; that’s what we spend a majority of our time doing,” said Wild. “The boys both play ice hockey on the Las Vegas Junior Wranglers. My daughter loves it, too. She’s a cheerleader at her high school. We’re really happy. We don’t even go to the strip. There are so many wonderful things to do in Las Vegas. There’s snowboarding and skiing, which people wouldn’t even realize.”
Wild also is grateful to his parents for supporting him throughout his military career. He praised them for encouraging him to follow his heart.
“To have the military life, it’s very important to have a close-knit family as well as a good support system, especially when you’re deployed,” he said. “My mom would go see the kids when I was deployed. That’s something very important.”
In addition to attending Toll Gate, Wild was a student at local schools, including Robertson Elementary, St. Rose of Lima and Winman Junior High.
Learn more about the Thunderbirds at www.afthunderbirds.com.