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Fly High

I've loved the Blue Angels my whole life. One even (kind of) saved my life once, but that is a story for another day. Throughout my work in public relations, I have had the incredible honor of not only working with the Blue Angels, but also introducing people from around the world to them. Whether these media professionals are from Japan, China, England, Ireland, Germany or Canada, the response is always the same... "Is this real?"

If you grew up in Pensacola and are used to seeing them, you have an immense respect and a soft spot in your heart for them because you've known the Blues your whole life. They are basically a part of your family. But when you introduce a grown adult to the Blues for the first time, it's completely different. You expect a child to have that sense of wonder because that's what children do. They see the beauty in things when, sometimes, it's easier for adults to see only the bottom line. But every time I have taken someone out to the National Naval Aviation Museum to see the Blues, something incredible happens. No matter how pragmatic or unimpressed they are with life's frivolities (trust me, I've seen many people like this), all of that fades away and suddenly... they are eight years old again. They are astonished, astounded and completely enchanted. When I watch the Blues, I see bravery, courage under fire, standing against all odds when you're not even remotely guaranteed a win. I see kindness and compassion every time they talk to a wide-eyed child who is wearing a matching blue flight suit. I see everything that our American military stands for, and I believe that's the point of the Blue Angels. Honestly, I just see... America. Every time I heard them screeching across Pensacola Bay from my old office, I would always get goose bumps and I immediately knew it was 11:45 a.m., right on the nose. So dependable you can set your watch by them. And that's what they are to us here in the Pensacola Bay Area - a constant. Dependable, majestic, fearless, and invincible. After seeing them fly so many times without incident, it's easy to come to these conclusions. But then, you have a day like June 2.

When Capt. Kuss tragically and heroically lost his life in Smyrna, TN, it was shocking to everyone in the country, and devastating to the people of Pensacola. The pain was palpable. Capt. Kuss was one of ours. We have adopted all of the Blue Angels as our own, and the sense of pride they give us is unparalleled. Having met Capt. Kuss a few times through my work with the Blue Angels, I can tell you for certain that the world lost a truly lovely and kind person. Sometimes we, the entertained audience, forget that every now and then this job asks for more than just your time, your skill, your dedication and your courage. Sometimes, it asks for everything. And that's obviously not just the Blue Angels, but the military in general.

Capt. Kuss was faced with an impossible situation. Close to highly populated areas and knowing that something was wrong, he used his incredible skill to ensure that the only life lost was his own. In that moment, he chose honor. He chose to put the lives of others before himself. He was obviously an incredibly talented showman, but first and foremost, he was a Marine, and an exemplary one at that.

Typically the Blue Angels are not called to protect us in such a fashion. But their role is still vitally important. It's not about fighting for the safety of our lives, but for the richness of them. Their purpose is to demonstrate the excellence of the United States military, but through doing so they bring an even bigger message to the table. They show us the incredible fortitude of the human spirit. Their tireless work and dedication to their craft is meant to show us that we too can be great if only we try. After all, their stunts were dismissed as a fantasy, until they went out there and redefined the limits of possibility. Through the Blue Angels, we see first-hand what happens when you are brave, and have the courage to strive to be your best self.

From the Today Show's Rokerthon. Al Roker is in the middle.

My heart breaks for Capt. Kuss's family, friends and team members. My hope is that this post serves as a reminder of just how loved the Blue Angels are. We do not take lightly what you do. You are just so good at your craft that sometimes we forget that you are only human, just like the rest of us. But, your achievements and your supreme selflessness serve as a reminder to us that we too can be better. We can also care more about our fellow man and less about ourselves, and by doing so we will be making this world a better place simply because better people inhabit it. Thank you, Capt. Kuss for reminding us that heroes are not only among us, but also within us. May we all find that selfless bravery within ourselves so that we can pay your incredible gift forward. Thank you to all of our Blue Angels, past and present, who take that risk every day to remind us of the incredible resilience of the American spirit, and for being keepers of the dream. And thank you to all of our service men and women, who constantly put their lives on the line for us, day in and day out. How fortunate we are to live in a place where so many give so much to protect our lives and all that we stand for. Being in such excellent company makes me even more proud to be an American.

Semper fi, Capt. Kuss.

If you would like to pay your respects to Capt. Kuss, a candlelight vigil will be held at Veterans Memorial Park tonight, June 9, and 7:30 p.m.. I can assure it will be extremely well attended, so you definitely want to get there early.


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