Former Civil Air Patrol Cadet Returns As Thunderbirds Veteran

Jamestown native and Air Force Staff Sgt. Kyle Baglia, in center, spoke to cadets of the Civil Air Patrol Jamestown Composite Squadron 402 at the Chautauqua County-Jamestown Airport on Thursday. Baglia is a former cadet of the Civil Air Patrol and is a member of the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron. P-J photo by A.J. Rao

Every year, thousands across the country rush to catch a glimpse of the famed Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron known for its high-flying skills and death-defying stunts.

But for Jamestown native and Air Force Staff Sgt. Kyle Baglia, there was never a need to rush.

As a dedicated crew chief for the squadron, Baglia, 28, was involved in close to 80 of its shows, specifically its so-called “ground shows,” which are sharply choreographed, drill-style ground ceremonies that showcase attention to detail and esprit de corps.

Baglia would travel for much of the year, performing for audiences of up to 450,000 in one weekend. He called the experience the highlight of his career — a career that began six years ago and is set to end in six months.

With retirement in sight, Baglia said he wanted things to “come full circle,” and paid a visit Thursday to the Civil Air Patrol Jamestown Composite Squadron 402 at the Chautauqua County-Jamestown Airport — where his love of the military began to flourish.

“I was always interested in the military growing up … but joining the Civil Air Patrol was like getting my foot in the door,” Baglia said. “When I went to boot camp, I realized that I had already learned most of the stuff in (Civil Air Patrol) … like addressing superiors, facing movements and drill ceremony. It was like riding a bike … it all came back to me.”

Indeed, Baglia said he started Civil Air Patrol as a shy 12-year-old who would often “hide in the back.” He credits Lt. Col. Ellen Maternowski, commander of the Jamestown squadron, for getting him out of his shell.

“She was very good mentor and helped me out a lot,” Baglia said. “It’s cool to see her doing the same thing 15 years later.”

Maternowski said she was overjoyed to see her former cadet.

“It’s pretty awesome,” she said. “His mother got a hold of me (earlier in the year) … and told me that Kyle wanted to come here and do a presentation for the cadets. I haven’t seen him in years and always wondered what happened. He took the right route and I’m so proud of him now.”

Baglia spoke with the current cadets of the Civil Air Patrol, giving them advice and, perhaps more importantly, a look at what their futures can hold.

“I sat here 15 years ago and then left for the military,” he said. “Now I want to inspire other people from the Western New York area to follow their dreams and pursue something that’s bigger than they are, whatever that may be.”

Baglia is a 2006 graduate of Jamestown Area High School and 2010 graduate of SUNY Fredonia. He enlisted in the Air Force shortly afterward, volunteering to become a crew chief when he heard there was a shortage.

After going through boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and receiving technical training at Sheppard Air Force Base (also in Texas), Baglia shipped off to his first duty station in Osan, South Korea.

Since then, he has traveled to a variety of other locations, including Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, where he participated in an elaborate war game drill with foreign militaries.

He is currently stationed in Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas.

Baglia said he wants to remain involved with the military in some capacity after leaving the service and credits his Thunderbirds experience for giving him greater opportunities.

For more information on the Jamestown Composite Squadron of Civil Air Patrol, contact Lt. Col. Maternowski at 397-3864 or visit the Chautauqua County-Jamestown Airport on Thursdays, from 6-9 p.m.