I thought I was prepared: I had passed a medical review to make sure I was physically fit. And I had read the materials they had sent me in advance to learn what to expect and how to react. When they strapped me into the cockpit of that jet, however, I discovered that no amount of reading and thinking can get you ready for the reality of flying with the Blue Angels in an F/A-18 Hornet. It was an absolutely awesome experience.
The Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s elite flying team, invited me to fly with them on July 14, 2009. The team was to perform at an air show in the Detroit area. As part of its goodwill ambassadorship, the Blue Angels always invite a few people from the local community to fly maneuvers in their No. 7 jet, which comes in early to do public relations and advance work. I was lucky to be one of three local people selected as a way for the Navy to say thank you for our support as well as for the work we had done to influence young people in their choice of careers.
I’ve been active in the Michigan Association of CPAs (MACPA) for a number of years, including being on the board of directors for the last six years. One of my passions is working with high school kids to let them know that accounting offers diverse career opportunities. To get that message out, I speak at MACPA’s High School Leaders Conferences, which offer the kids a chance to learn about accounting in the real world. The conference brings in CPAs from all types of industries—even the FBI—and opens the kids’ eyes to accounting’s career possibilities, including the Navy, since it needs accountants and CPAs, too.
As a MACPA board member, I met Kristine Volk, another board member, who did volunteer work for the Navy. Through her connections, I have coordinated Red Wing support for the Navy—such as by arranging for a couple of Red Wing players to fly with the Blue Angels, making motivational speeches to groups of Navy recruiters, and providing tickets to Red Wing games. Red Wing players actually did re-enlistment ceremonies for three different sailors. The ceremonies were very special to these enlisted men.
The Navy thanked me for my support with its invitation to fly with the Blue Angels. I’ll never forget that day, starting when we took off: As we taxied out and gained speed, flying about 10 feet above the ground, the pilot asked if I was ready to fly. “Yes, sir,” I answered. Then, bam! We took off seemingly straight up, from ground level to 7,000 feet in about four seconds! It was like a roller coaster ride—only much faster! In the next 30 minutes, the pilot took me through a lot of maneuvers, which he described as if we were in combat with a fighter jet. We did loops; we slowed down to 130 mph then went straight up, over the top, and down. We hit 685 mph. We even flew upside down! That was to get the blood back to my head, because I confess—I passed out for a few seconds as we were doing one of those corkscrew turns. At one point during the flight we sustained about 7.5 Gs. I felt like Tom Cruise in the movie Top Gun.
In 2002, the Red Wings general manager arranged to have my name inscribed on the Stanley Cup, a privilege given to only a few financial people. In 2008, I was honored to be named to the AICPA Business and Industry Hall of Fame. I am grateful for both of those honors, and I will remember them forever. But I will not only remember my day with the Blue Angels, I will talk about it—to anybody who will listen, including those high school kids at the Leaders Conference.
Young people often ask, “How did you fall into that cool job and do fun stuff?” I tell them, “You don’t ‘fall’ into a job like this. You work hard, and maybe you get a reward.” I’ve been with the Red Wings since 1992, and that’s what I’ve tried to do: Work hard, spend quality time with my family, and enjoy what is given to me. I feel very fortunate for all my experiences, and enjoy giving back to the profession and community whenever I can.
—As told to Linda Segall
Photo by Dave Reginek/DIG Photographics