Hometown Hero Vince Vaden Gets a Thunderbird Ride

This is a regular blog post. Please check out the other posts for show notes and links to show audio.

Vince Vaden probably didn’t think about what it was like to try to breathe with a refrigerator on his chest unless it was to empathize with a victim of an accident or fire that he might rescue. He probably didn’t think a lot about jet fuel, either, unless it was as part of his hazardous materials and disaster management training.

That’s because Vince is a critical care paramedic and certified firefighter. Most of the time, he’s thinking about other people instead of himself.

But today, Vince got to think about pulling G-loads similar to having a refrigerator on his chest or burning thousands of pounds of JP-8. He got a ride with the United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds.

Vince was nominated and selected as a Hometown Hero and given the opportunity to go fly a one-hour demo with LtCol Derek Routt, Thunderbird 7.

Vince started out as a first responder by earning his EMT-Basic license. He became a paramedic just two years later. From 1999 to 2004, he also served as a firefighter for LeRoy Township near Battle Creek.

He’s now a critical care paramedic, which is the top of the paramedic ladder. He’s qualified to transport critically ill and injured people between hospitals, frequently as the highest medically-qualified person on the transport mission.

The Thunderbirds’ Hometown Hero program complements the Thunderbirds’ existing media flight program in raising public awareness of the Air Force’s capabilities while also giving back to the individuals who patiently and quietly protect and take care of us all over the country. The program showcases American people who do amazing things in their communities, bust as the airmen of the US Air Force to amazing things in the skies at shows like the Battle Creek Field of Flight Airshow and Balloon Festival.

I got to hang out with Vince while he suited up. He was pretty focused on the process as they patched him up, fitted him for the G-suit, and set up his helmet and oxygen mask. His wife and nine-year-old son are delightful and seemed really excited for him.

They were out on the ramp for the arrival of the team and I talked to Vince briefly. He said the kinds of things that I would imagine I said when I was in his boots (perhaps even the very same boots) and seemed pretty preoccupied with realizing the dream.

I had to leave to get to the balloon gathering to see if there was going to be a launch. They scrubbed it, probably for both low ceilings and wind. I had a feeling that they might scrub it, but wanted to get back to see about available media slots and maybe see Dave Emmert, who took me up in 2006.

At about 6:30, Thunderbird 7 roared down Runway 23 and took to the sky. Because of the low cloud layer, they didn’t do the vertical pull at the end of the runway, instead lifting off and making a tight right turn, entering the clouds level and climbing north for the Hersey MOA near Big Rapids.

Congratulations, Vince! It was good to meet you. And it’s good to know that the Thunderbirds have recognized your patient and skillful service. And that you’re an inspiration to first responders and others who serve everywhere.

Like Vince’s nomination letter says: “The number of lives he has saved is measurable, but the number of lives that he has touched and will continue to touch is limitless.”

Hope you enjoyed your flight, man! Smoke on!

About Steve Tupper

Stephen Force is the superhero alter ego of mild-mannered tech and aviation lawyer, commercial pilot (glider, with private privileges in ASEL, ASES, AMEL, IA, and DC-3 (SIC) type-rated), and Civil Air Patrol lieutenant colonel Steve Tupper. Steve writes, records, and brings you the inside story about everything that really matters in aviation. He's flown with the USAF Thunderbirds, he's and airshow performer and air boss, and he's one of only five pilots ever to earn a FAST card in the glider category. Follow Steve's ongoing quest to do all that is cool in aviation at www.airspeedonline.com or on Twitter as @StephenForce.


  1. Nlvaden says:

    Thanks for coming out! You were very nice to have around. -Nicki

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