Sea & Sky Spectacular Jacsonville Beach Florida

By JO1 Christopher E. Tucker Staff writer from the Mayportmirror

More than 400,000 Jacksonville residents packed Jacksonville Beach Oct. 24-26 to witness the 2003 Jacksonville Sea & Sky Spectacular, co-sponsored by Naval Station Mayport, the city of Jacksonville and the Beaches. While the public was able to witness spectacular displays of both civilian and military aircraft and a Navy and Marine Corps amphibious assault, the show was actually a culmination of months of planning by military and civilian agencies.

''I can't express just how proud of the work our folks put into this year's sea and air show,'' said Naval Station Mayport Commanding Officer, Capt. Matthew Schellhorn. ''Our people put so much into making sure this show was a success and it paid off. I think we gave Jacksonville and area residents a good display of what the military does for a living. I also think we sparked a few people to look at the military as a rewarding and exciting career choice.''

Even before the air show officially began, Naval Station Mayport and the City of Jacksonville were doing all they could to promote the event. NASCAR legend Richard Petty visited local Sailors and their families and got a chance to ride with the Blue Angels. Syndicated radio talk show host Neal Boortz broadcasted his show from the foc'sle of USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) and got a chance to fly in one of HSL-48's SH-60B Seahawk helicopters.

''I can't tell you what a great time I had at Naval Station Mayport and at Jacksonville Beach over the past few days for the Jacksonville Sea and Sky Spectacular,'' Boortz said in a thank you letter posted on his web site.

.NASCAR legend Richard Petty sits in the cockpit of a Blue Angel F/A-18 Hornet.
Photo by PH2 Kevin Langford
The air show portion of the event included ''fly-bys'' by Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard aircraft, as well as civilian aerobatic performers. What made this show most unique was an amphibious assault demonstration. Launched from USS Bataan (LHD 5) and coordinated by the II Marine Expeditionary Force, AAVs (Amphivious Assault Vehicles) and LCACs (Landing Crafts Air Cushion) unloaded Marines on Jacksonville Beach as AV-8B Harriers, F/A-18 Hornets, AH-1W Cobra Gunships and CH-46E Sea Knights provided simulated air support. USS Klakring (FFG 42) also provided simulated shore fire support from off shore. As the Marines ''hit the beach'' from their AAVs, the crowd erupted in cheers and applause.

''The amphibious assault blew me away,'' said Jacksonville resident Jason McAllister. ''It was like something you see on television. I had no idea the Navy and Marines did this kind of stuff. It was extremely impressive.''

The Sea and Sky Spectacular's grand finale was a 45-minute performance by the Navy's premier flight demonstration squadron, The Blue Angels.

''This is the first time I've been here and the show exceeded all my expectations,'' said Coast Guard Capt. David L. Lersch, Commanding Officer of USCG Marine Safety Office Jacksonville.

In a welcome letter to attendees, Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton said the Sea and Sky Spectacular was one of his favorite events that the city helps coordinate.

''It gives us all an opportunity to share our pride in our nation and recognize the contributions of our military men and women. These individuals work hard every day to preserve the blessings of freedom for us all, and we're grateful for their service and sacrifice on behalf of all Americans.''