ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jumping from a plane high above Albuquerque, 10 members of the U.S. Navy’s SEALs team known as the Leap Frogs will plummet downward Saturday, Sept. 17, before popping their chutes and gliding safely and majestically to the infield of the Albuquerque Downs racetrack, kicking off the New Mexico State Fair’s horse racing for the day.
It’s the culmination of Navy Week in Albuquerque as some 75 sailors from across the country reach out to local residents at a variety of events, particularly at the State Fair, says U.S. Navy Lt. Jason Fischer, the chief planner for event.
“This is exciting,” he says. “We have 15 of these a year (around the country) and in each, we try to piggyback off an anchor event. We do this for obvious reasons; for exposure so we can see more people and more people can see us.”
And the State Fair offers a perfect venue for that, Fischer says.
“We think the State Fair is a wonderful opportunity to interact with the people of greater Albuquerque,” he says. “Throughout the week this gives citizens the opportunity to get up close with their Navy sailors.”
In addition to various events around Albuquerque, the Navy will staff a booth at the fair on Tuesday, Sept. 13, and Wednesday, Sept. 14.
“It’s mostly about outreach and exposure,” Fischer says. “What we discovered some time ago was that there are pockets of the country – the Southwest, Midwest and other places obviously away from the coast and fleet concentrations in San Diego, Norfolk (Virginia) and Florida – where people didn’t know much about the Navy.”
So to correct that and create more familiarity with the service, the Navy has taken a grassroots approach to information dissemination.
“People should know what the Navy is about, and the mission the Navy provides for our country,” Fischer says. “A large piece of the tax dollars goes to defense and we think they should know how that money is being spent.”
The approach is not really about boosting numbers, he says.
“Collaterally speaking, it has its benefits, but this is not a recruiting mission,” Fischer says. “It is related, but this is about outreach and exposure. We don’t measure the success of it by recruiting numbers.”
Having the Navy participate in the fair helps recognize the military’s role here and abroad, says fair general manager Dan Mourning.
“At EXPO New Mexico, we relish the opportunity to honor our active duty military personnel as well as our veterans,” he says. “So to have the chance to work in partnership with the Navy to provide the perfect backdrop for these incredible events is an honor for our State Fair.”
One of the Navy’s leading forms of outreach are the Leap Frogs, Fischer says, and they always enthrall spectators.
The plan is to jump around 12:30 p.m., Fischer says.
Before each demonstration, the crew performs a streamer pass to help gauge wind speed and direction. Sometimes an early burn is performed by activating a smoke canister attached to a Leap Frog foot brackets, which signals they’re ready to go.
During the demonstration, smoke canisters are frequently employed during free fall to make it easier to follow since sometimes the jump starts from as high as 12,000 feet.
Following the landing, the Leap Frogs field questions from the audience and occasionally allow younger viewers to help pack the parachutes.
It’s sure to be a hit, Mourning says.
Navy Week activities also will include performances all week from the Navy Band Northwest from Washington state, playing a variety of music, Fischer said.
“They’re all trained, professional musicians,” he says. “Their job is to play music. That’s all they do.”
The band also plans to march in the fair parade Saturday, Sept. 10.
On Tuesday, Sept. 13, during the fair’s Military Appreciation Day, Rear Adm. Phillip Sawyer will speak on the Mattress Firm Pavilion stage about 10:30 a.m.
“He’s going to thank the community for its support of the military and veterans for their service,” Fischer says. “And he may speak briefly on the state of the Navy and the area’s relationship to the Navy.”
The goal is also to have some of the current sailors from the USS Albuquerque brought in, he says, to further the connection to the community.
“The Navy has a long history with Albuquerque,” Fischer says. “There’s a large presence of former sailors, retired sailors here and we want to continue that relationship and nurture that relationship.”