Several military members return home to perform in Thunder Over Louisville

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Members of our nation's military gather on the river bank for Thunder Over Louisville and for many, it means flying home. As hundreds of thousands of spectators take their seats, a lot has happen behind the scenes leading up to Saturday.

The noise, the thrill and millions of eyes mark the start of the Kentucky Derby Festival. 

"We have to check the river conditions, we have to check the weather to make sure the winds are right and we try to plan the jump to where we exit the airplane at the right altitude at the right time and land at a particular spot on the ground or in this case, in the water safely," says First Lieutenant Russ LeMay of the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Special Tactics Squadron.

First Lieutenant LeMay is the jump master, exiting the plane at 5,000 feet. 

Other locals joined the DeSales High School grad, landing home in Louisville Thursday to perform in front of family, friends and the masses. 

"This is pretty unique from a civilian stand point, but for us, it's probably just another day at work," says Captain Lauren Hettich of the U.S. Air Force.

F-15s, 16s,18s and others, the gang's all there. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be back here doing this," Hettich said. 

Born and raised in Kentucky, Captain Hettich returned to fly in Thunder for the first time. "To actually be here, this is going to be one of the highlights of my career right now," Hettich said.

"I grew up in Borden, Indiana, in Charlestown, and we would always sit on the southern side of the river and watch it from that angle," says Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Bell, 345th Squadron Commander of the U.S. Air Force. 

Lieutenant Colonel Bell is no longer a spectator. "That was the best part. The very first time I did this, just looking down and seeing the sheer number of people on the riverbank and everyone's watching and I remember myself as an 11-year-old kid just staring off in knoll and looking at the jets go by and the fireworks later that night. It's's a pretty eye-opening and amazing experience," Lieutenant Colonel Bell said.

They'll fly 1,000 feet above the water. "When we do things like this, we get other people coming out, excited, especially kids, seeing the planes and everything, it just reminds you just how awesome of a job you have and you stop working and you just enjoy the moment," Lieutenant Colonel Bell said.

More than 70 planes will make up the skyline. "Spins are easy, spins are easy! Oh yeah, especially in this thing, it's awesome," Lieutenant Colonel Bell said. 

This is second nature. "We've all been to combat and it's funny, you just don't want to mess up the air show right? So, you want to be exactly where you're supposed to be on time. So, it's funny, the things that we do, the stress we're put under. Something like this is probably the first time our hearts beat a little bit, because we don't want to look stupid on camera," Lieutenant Colonel Bell said.

A homecoming for many men and women who will meet up with family afterward. "I'm just an example that I'm another person out there that was able to do something they thought they never would really be able to do, and maybe didn't even think about when they were younger. So, the sky is the limit," Captain Hettich said.

As spectators take it all in, so will they. "It's a very neat opportunity, one just to jump in that atmosphere over the river, over the bridges, with the skyscrapers of Louisville as well as the crowd. It's nothing that we're typically used to with what we do, that we're jumping for our job. So, that's pretty cool," First Lieutenant LeMay said. 

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