PAWTUCKET — When he was a young boy, Joshua Bryant would always be excited to go to the Rhode Island National Guard air shows at Quonset Point to see the Thunderbirds, and on one rare occasion, the Blue Angels. Now, the 35-year-old Pawtucket native and U.S. Marines Staff Sergeant gets to relive that excitement regularly—and from a different vantage point--as part of the elite Blue Angels Team.
“I always loved planes and anything to do with aviation,” said Bryant, who was back in Rhode Island this week following the Blue Angels air show last weekend as part of the Rhode Island National Guard Open House. “I love what I do. It doesn't get old to me,” he stated.
Bryant's job is to help maintain the engines on the FA 18 Hornets that the Blue Angels perform in and which are the mainstay of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aviation teams. He completed his intensive training last winter and in February, earned the Blue Angels Crest that is a proud part of his uniform. In what is now a three-year assignment, he will be crisscrossing the nation with the Blue Angels as they perform in those very same air shows that impressed him as a kid.
“From March through November, almost every weekend we have a show,” said Bryant. The Blue Angels team, based out of Pensacola, Florida, was headed next to Michigan. He and the rest of the ground crew will ensure that the planes are in top condition for the pilots as they once again demonstrate the jaw-dropping precision flying that never fails to delight audiences.
Bryant noted that just prior to the Rhode Island show, there was a minor engine malfunction in one of the planes. “It took a couple of hours, but we got it ready for the show the next day,” he stated. The team travels on a C-130 “Fat Albert” cargo plane.
Bryant, who attended Shea High School for a year before moving with his family to Massachusetts, said he enlisted in the Marines shortly after turning 18. His love of planes had made him initially interested in the Air Force, “but the Marines sold me better,” he said, with a smile.
Since completing his basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina, Bryant has always been involved with working on plane engines and maintaining the aircraft. He worked his way through the ranks to become a senior mechanic, where he trained others to understand the workings of a plane engine and to do a job that he clearly enjoys. “Very rarely did they say, 'Staff Sergeant, I need your help,'” said Bryant, proudly.
During his 16 years in the military, Bryant has seen plenty of active duty. He served aboard the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and has been on missions to Hong Kong and India. Last year, he was in Kandahar, Afghanistan, working with his same unit from the USS Nimitz. “We were part of the ground troops. I did the same job, but on the ground, instead of carrier-based,” he said.
Besides showing off the Blue Angels' flying prowess, the purpose of the air shows is to promote the U.S. Navy and Marines and help with recruitment efforts. Bryant said he enjoys talking with the people he meets at these events. “Every time I see the Blue Angels, I see nothing but smiles on people's faces, he said.
Bryant added that at a recent air show in Lynchburg, Virginia, the crowd cheered the ground crew as appreciatively as they did the pilots. “Usually, the pilots get all the glory. It was good for the crew to hear the applause, too,” he noted. He said he was impressed at the way the small southern town welcomed the Blue Angels team. “Everyone was stopping us and taking pictures,” he said. “There was an 'awe' factor,” which felt nice.”
Rhode Islanders welcomed the Blue Angels in a big way as well. Last weekend's Rhode Island National Guard Air Show drew the biggest crowds in the event's 21-year history. It was the first time the Blue Angels had performed there since 2004, as the show typically hosts the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. While Bryant's parents, Beverly and Andy Bryant, live in Florida, a large group of his local relatives, including grandparents Robert and Beulah Dumas, of Pawtucket, attended the air show.
Bryant's 10-year-old son, Alexander Pritchard, also got his first glimpse of a legendary Blue Angels performance—made all the more special with his father as part of the team. “He was so excited, he tells everybody,” said Bryant.