Creative Commons / The Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds flying over New York City
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On May 15, the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds honored health care workers, first responders and essential employees by conducting flyovers over Los Angeles and San Diego. The flyovers were part of Operation America Strong, a collaborative effort announced by President Donald Trump to display solidarity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though they should be appreciated as a positive effort to raise the country’s morale amidst such a challenging time, they unknowingly encouraged irresponsible behavior that threatened public safety.

Concerns were raised about how the operation is a waste of resources, especially when medical personnel still do not have a sufficient number of personal protective equipment. 

“While America Strong will showcase Department of Defense support to healthcare workers, first responders, military, essential employees, and aims to unite all Americans in the fight against COVID-19, it also fulfills critical training requirements for both teams,” according to a statement released by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force. “Pilots must execute a minimum number of flight hours to maintain proficiency. These flyovers will incur no additional cost to taxpayers.”

The demonstrations are also a part of the pilots’ training. The operational costs of around $60,000 per hour are already allocated into the Pentagon’s budget, meaning that the fighter jets would have been flown either way. 

No matter how important it is for the pilots to perfect their skills, it does not matter if the flyovers were done with the best of intentions. Despite multiple disclaimers that residents should stay in their homes and avoid large gatherings when watching the fighter jets, it is no surprise that people neglected to maintain social distancing. Videos and posts surfaced of people in extremely close proximity, one of which showed a crowd standing next to a field hospital meant to treat those who were infected by the virus. 

In light of many beaches opening up for public use, massive crowds have begun to appear. Social distancing seemed to be a thing of the past, especially with recent Memorial Day weekend celebrations

Authorities in the Tampa area along Florida’s Gulf Coast had to close parking lots because of the massive amounts of people, as reported in a Business Insider article

“The Air Force and Navy have partnered with local governments and media outlets to help ensure spectators follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing guidelines,” said the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force in its statement. “Both teams are also implementing various measures to maintain personnel and community safety.  This includes air-to-air refueling during transit and no scheduled stops en route to reduce potential exposure to the virus.”

Obviously, that is not what happened. It is clear that for part of the general public, socializing is a larger priority than safety. The flyovers were simply another welcomed excuse for many to escape their daily routines of being quarantined. 

It is also fortunate that no serious injuries or damages occurred as they have for the Canadian Snowbirds, whose salute to Canadian first responders resulted in the death of a crew member and the injury of another. A jet crashed into the front garden of a house on May 18 shortly after it took off. 

It would be remiss not to address those who appreciated Operation American Strong. First responders were grateful for the reprieve from their work as essential employees. The purpose of the flyovers was to recognize those who have been keeping communities safe during this time.

“We hope to give onlookers a touching display of American resolve that honors those serving on the frontline [of] our fight against COVID-19,” said Thunderbirds commander Lt. Col. John Caldwell in a release. 

There truly were positive intentions behind Operation America Strong, but the fact of the matter is that the operation did more harm than good?—for others, it did absolutely nothing. The country could definitely use some uplifting moments now more than ever. However, with the way U.S. residents are reacting to the gradual reopening of public areas, even more boosts of morale will be needed to survive the seemingly never-ending effects of COVID-19. 

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