U.S. aircraft, troops a hit at Moscow air show
ZHUKOVSKY, Russia — Air Force Staff Sgt. Christy Jeffreys isn't new to traveling. In the last nine years since she's been in the Air Force, her job as a boom operator on the KC-10 Extender has taken her to more than 10 different countries.
But, this was the first time her job has also made her feel like a celebrity.
Jeffreys, a Reservist assigned to the 79th Air Refueling Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., was part of a team of about 100 people representing the U.S. military at the Moscow International Air Show and Space Salon here Aug. 16-21.
"Interacting with the Russian public and air show visitors has been a phenomenal experience," she said. "Everyone wants to talk to the Americans, and I think it's also a little unusual for them to see a woman in a flight suit, so everyone wants to get my autograph and take my picture with them.
"It's actually a little overwhelming, but it makes you feel good at the same time," Jeffreys said. "It kind of makes you feel like a celebrity."
And the feeling of being famous wasn't confined to just one individual.
"It's been a real privilege to be here," said Air Force Senior Airman Justin Rickles, 48th Security Forces Squadron, from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. "Everyone really welcomed us with open arms and swarmed around our corral wanting autographs.
"I guess I was expecting them to be a little less friendly," Rickles continued. "But, they've all tried really hard to speak to us in English and have thanked us for coming. It's been a really cool experience."
Air show officials estimated that more than 750,000 people attended the show. Many got a close-up look at America's F-15E Strike Eagle, F-16C Fighting Falcon, KC-10 Extender, KC-135 Stratotanker and the B-1B Lancer during the six-day air show. The B-1B also performed a daily aerial demonstration for three days of the show.
Both the U.S. aircraft and military members were well received, said Air Force Col. Scott Nielson, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Reserve Forces adviser and air boss for the event.
"From our perspective, the air show has been fantastic," Nielson said. "Our people really stepped up to the plate. From helping out with security around our aircraft, to smiling and taking photographs as they explained the specifics of the airframes, they've been top-notch ambassadors for the United States of America."
This is the second time the United States has displayed military aircraft at the air show, the first time was in 2003. In 2001, the United States participated with a technology booth.
"Our being here is an important step in continuing to build the bridge and foster good relations between the United States and Russia," Nielson said.
"For me it really hit home when I gave a retired Soviet air force colonel one of our Air Force lapel pins," the colonel said. "The man, who was dressed in his uniform, tried to give me his hat in return. Even that Cold War warrior wanted to show his friendship to me. We've come a long way."
Although the celebrity status may wear off, the memories will last forever, Jeffreys said.
"Everyone has an idea in their head what Russia and its people are going to be like, and this is nothing like I expected," she said. "The only thing I regret is not being able to speak Russian. I would come back in a heartbeat."