Two Air Force officers in Germany join Thunderbirds team
June 12, 2006
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Capt. Charles Ploetz’s family has strong military roots.
His father was an Air Force munitions officer, and both of his grandfathers served as pilots in the military.
So it’s probably no surprise he followed in their footsteps and joined the Air Force. But Ploetz, who grew up in the Air Force, never expected he would one day join the Air Force’s famous demonstration squadron, the Thunderbirds.
He will do just that later this year. He found out last week he made the team as the squadron’s maintenance officer.
“It’s been a dream since I’ve been in the service,” said Ploetz, who has been in the Air Force six years and is the 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit’s officer in charge at Spangdahlem Air Base.
Ploetz is one of two officers stationed in Germany named to the Thunderbirds’ 2007 team. The other is Maj. Robert Skelton, the deputy branch chief for training support at U.S. Air Forces in Europe headquarters based at Ramstein Air Base.
The Thunderbirds announced seven new officers for next year’s team last week, including Ploetz and Skelton. The two men will not actually perform during the air show.
The Thunderbirds consist of eight pilots — including six demonstration pilots — four support officers, three civilians and more than 130 enlisted personnel.
Skelton will be the squadron’s operations officer, which is the team’s second in command and known as “Thunderbird No. 7.” He has about 2,200 flying hours in both the C-130 and F-16.
Gen. Ronald Keys, commander of Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, called the new officers last week to inform them that they made the team.
Skelton said he couldn’t believe it when he got the call at home. He said his initial reaction was “a little bit of surprise, a little bit of shock and awe.”
“[I’m] just really excited, really humbled and really honored and hoping we represent all of our Air Force brothers and sisters the best that we can,” he said.
Skelton graduated from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., before joining the Air Force. He played wide receiver at Samford from 1987 to 1991 under then-head coach Terry Bowden.
He said his family also is excited about him joining the team and heading to the squadron’s home at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Skelton is married with two daughters and a son.
“They’re all just absolutely thrilled about it,” he said.
Ploetz, who is married with two young children, said everyone in his family is also elated he made the team.
“All the military in my family is absolutely ecstatic,” he said.
Ploetz joined the Air Force at age 26 after working two years as an environmental consultant for a private company. He has served mostly as an aircraft maintainer throughout his career. Although he moved around as a “military brat,” he calls San Antonio home. In college, he was an all-conference pole vaulter for the Texas State track team.
He said being a member of the Thunderbirds is a tremendous responsibility. The team performs in air shows across globe, representing the U.S. Air Force and serving as a recruiting tool for the service.
“To be able to be that representative, in itself, is huge to me,” he said.