MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The celebrity status now dogging him is a bit uncomfortable, admits Senior Airman Brian Emerson.

The spotlight is shining on this modest F-16 crew chief because of his recent selection to the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force’s elite aerial demonstration team.

Try as he might, Emerson, 26, hasn’t been able to keep the news quiet.

His officer in charge at the 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit shouted the news over the shop’s loudspeaker when she found out.

He’s been receiving congratulatory e-mails from strangers, following the posting of a story about his selection on the base’s home page, which was picked up by the F-16 fan Web site,

“I don’t want to come off as bragging,” Emerson says. “There are people that work just as hard as me in my shop.”

Emerson’s career path since he joined the Air Force nearly four years ago would be perfect material for a recruiting ad.

The Rockledge, Fla., native was a cellular phone sales representative, bouncing from job to job, looking for something better in life.

“I wanted to make something of myself,” he said.

He chose the Air Force for its promise of stability, travel and education benefits.

When he joined, he had never heard of the F-16 crew chief job.

He was a fast learner.

Stationed at Misawa for his first duty station, Emerson soon found himself the crew chief for the wing commander’s F-16, a position he’s held now for three commanders. As a crew chief, he inspects, maintains, and launches and recovers the aircraft.

The standard is especially high for the wing commander’s crew chief.

“The jet has to be clean. Your uniform has to stand out,” Emerson said.

Meeting those expectations will give him a good foundation for the Thunderbirds, he figures.

He reports to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., in mid-April. But he first must finish Airman Leadership School and upgrade training for his career field, now that he’s received a line number for staff sergeant.

Those pursuits have left him little time to think about the Thunderbirds, a three-year assignment with an option for a fourth.

He’s not even sure what to expect, besides a fast pace and more than 230 days traveling the world for air shows.

The enthusiastic yet disciplined image projected by the Thunderbirds is what motivated Emerson to apply. On temporary duty to Nellis in January last year, Emerson got to share a meal with some of the Thunderbird crew chiefs.

“Everybody puts 100 percent in, no matter what your career field is,” he said. “There are people … that aren’t even crew chiefs getting their hands dirty.”

The crew chiefs put in a good word for Emerson and told him what he needed to do to join.

Six months before he was scheduled to leave Misawa, Emerson submitted a letter of recommendation, a resume, his personnel file and all of his performance reports.

There was no essay, just information “to see if you had a career worthy of being a Thunderbird,” he said.

His supervisors at Misawa think he does.

“He is the complete package and a supervisor’s dream,” Master Sgt. Clarence Glascock, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, aircraft section chief, was quoted in a base news story. “He has consistently displayed the highest standards and his confidence, dedication, and work ethics will be a tremendous asset to the Thunderbirds.”

Emerson attributes much of his success to Staff Sgt. Jevon Hairston, his immediate supervisor for the past two and half years.

“He’s been a mentor, not just to me, but for a lot of airmen in our shop,” Emerson said.

But his biggest fan may be his mom.

The Thunderbirds recently put on a show in Florida. “My mom cut the article out and put it next to my picture,” he said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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