MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- For some, aviation is a hobby. For others, it’s a way of life.
“Flying is something that has always amazed me,” said Capt. Jeff Kuss, a pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312 aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. “I can remember playing with jets when I was little.”
His passion for flying continued to grow as he got older.
“I started flying as a civilian in high school and when I learned more about the Marine Corps I knew that was the route I wanted to go,” said Kuss, a 30-year-old native of Durango, Colo.
After graduating high school, Kuss attended Fort Lewis College and graduated with a degree in economics in 2006.
From there, he went to Officer Candidate School and The Basic School, where he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant. He attended flight training in Pensacola, Fla. and learned to fly jets in Kingsville, Texas.
In 2011, Kuss was assigned to VMFA-312 and went on to participate in various training exercises. In July 2013, he deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom aboard the USS Harry S. Truman.
After Kuss returned from deployment he saw a chance to pursue one of his dreams – joining the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team.
Kuss was one of three F/A-18 Hornet pilots selected to join the team for the 2015 season.
“Who wouldn’t want to fly one of those [jets],” he said. “There is nothing like it.”
“As a Blue Angel you are the face of the Navy and Marine Corps,” said Lt. Col. Nathan Miller, the commanding officer of VMFA-312.
Miller, who flew with the Blue Angels in 2006, described Kuss as an outstanding Marine.
“[Capt. Kuss] has the overall Marine concept and his personality and work ethic are a great fit,” said Miller. “We believe in him and know that he believes in the Marine Corps.”
The Blue Angels represent the excellence and professionalism found throughout the Navy and Marine Corps. Each Blue Angel team member is an ambassador of their service and a representative of their fellow service members, said Miller, who flew with the Blue Angels in 2006.
“I have always wanted to be a part of the Blue Angels,” said Kuss. “It has always been a goal of mine.”
A total of 16 officers voluntarily serve with the Blue Angels. Each year the team typically selects three pilots, two support officers and one Marine Corps C-130 pilot to relieve departing members.
According to the Blue Angels web site, each applicant must be career oriented, possess an aircraft carrier qualification and have a minimum of 1,250 tactical jet flight-hours.
For a three-month period during the air-show season, applicants attend between two and four air show performances, said Kuss. While attending the shows, applicants get to know the team and see what the Blue Angels do, because they have a very high operational tempo.
According to Kuss, the candidates who make it to the final cut visit Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., for a week. During that week, the potential Blue Angels go through more in-depth testing, meet families of the team and other candidates and attend interviews.
“When I found out I was selected the feeling was surreal,” said Kuss. “It’s an honor to be a part of this and to be the face of the Navy and Marine Corps.”
“All of our finalists this year are incredible examples of some of the finest officers in the Navy and Marine Corps, from both the aviation community and the fleet,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Hiltz, Right Wing pilot and the applications officer for the 2014 team. “What was most important for us was to select the most qualified individuals for the team to represent the more than 540,000 sailors and Marines deployed around the world, around the clock. I’m happy to say that we’ve done that.”
“A significant number of extremely talented, experienced sailors and Marines applied this year, and we are proud of those we have chosen to join the 2015 team,” said Navy Cmdr. Tom Frosch, flight leader and commanding officer for the team. “They are excellent representatives of the skilled service members defending our freedom around the world.”
The mission of the Blue Angels is to showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service to country through flight demonstrations and community outreach.
Since their inception in 1946, the Blue Angels have performed for more than 400 million fans.