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DOD has an oversized Super Bowl Week > US Department of Defense > History

An estimated 113 million people worldwide attended Super Bowl LVII, which means nearly as many saw the Navy flyover and the U.S. Armed Forces Color Guard unveiling of flags during the national anthem.

But what you may not know is that the Department of Defense has a much larger role in one of the most watched sporting events in the world.

Throughout the week leading up to the big game, service members and veterans of all branches had the opportunity to meet the community and participate in various celebrations in Glendale, Arizona, nearby Luke Air Force Base and local schools .

This year, the flyover celebrated 50 years of women in naval aviation by having an all-female formation team fly over the stadium in an F-35C Lightning II, two FA-18F Super Hornets and an EA-18G Growler.

“I am thrilled to be part of this team and inspire the next generation of female aviators,” said Navy Lieutenant Naomi Ngalle, an F/A-18F Super Hornet pilot with Strike Fighter Squadron 122 out of Lemoore, California.

“I just feel honored to be here, honored to be a part of this exciting moment in history and am truly grateful for the opportunity,” said Navy Lieutenant Peggy Dente, EA-18G Growler pilot with Electronic Attack Squadron 129 from Oak. Harbor, Wash.

Ngalle and Dente were two of 11 pilots chosen for the mission. Seven flew in the game, while four others served as substitutes. Before the big day, though, the Airmen spent the week at Luke Air Force Base meeting with their Air Force partners, the Air Force community, and civilian leaders for a pre-Super Bowl celebration. Students from local schools were also able to check out the plane, talk to the pilots and crew, and even meet some NFL Hall of Famers.

A few lucky people, including Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs, even got to fly an F/A-18E Super Hornet. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Calli Zimmerman accompanied Hobbs for about an hour, performing basic maneuvers like rolls and wingovers. Zimmerman said she’s almost down to five G-forces.

“I only puked twice,” Hobbs joked. “It was pretty amazing.”

The pilots, their reinforcements and crew, who all contributed to the success of the mission, were rewarded during the game’s third quarter.

Another major military event during the national anthem was the unveiling of flags by the US Armed Forces Color Guard, who rehearsed all week for the big moment in the field.

Other historical figures were also in attendance for the week-long festivities, including Navy Captain Joellen Oslund. After entering naval flight training in 1972, she became the service’s first female helicopter pilot.

In commemoration of 50 years of women flying in the @US Navy, retired seaman CAPT Joellen Oslund; the first female helicopter pilot was awarded #SBLVII. During her 25 years of service, she has broken many barriers for women in the military and has a special message for her fellow Navy pilots. pic.twitter.com/vx3y6tA7tk

— Department of Defense (@DeptofDefense) February 13, 2023

And then, of course, there were the four Medal of Honor recipients who took part in a panel discussion at Luke Air Force Base. Retired Marine Lieutenant Thomas Norris and Marine Lieutenant Michael Thornton as well as Army Captain Gary Rose and Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas Payne spoke with the airmen, their families and others about their experiences.

Later in the week, Medal of Honor recipients made the rounds of the Super Bowl Experience, even meeting superstar turned NFL analyst Rob Gronkowski.

The Super Bowl wasn’t even the only championship going. The USA Wheelchair Football League’s second annual championship was held at Luke Air Force Base earlier in the week. The league, established in 2019 for athletes with disabilities, hosts players who have said they do it for the camaraderie, action and competition.

“I went to my first practice and I was hooked,” said Bart Salgado, a Marine who served in Desert Storm and Somalia and has been playing wheelchair soccer for nearly 22 years.

“My favorite part is the physicality of the game. I can be competitive and I can hit people,” said Matthew Scholten, a 20-year Army veteran who has been playing in the Kansas City League for two years. “It’s a great time.”

But… back to the aviators. Before the big game, several of the pilots were asked what their advice would be for the girls watching them who wanted to do what they do someday.

“Resilience is the key. You can’t just surrender at the first checkpoint,” said Navy Lieutenant Caitie Perkowsi, an F/A-18E Super Hornet pilot with Strike Fighter Squadron 122. “Keep your head down, keep going.” push for what you want, and don’t let anyone tell you [that] you can not do this”.

“[You need] be able to accept criticism. It was something I struggled with initially just because flight training is very difficult,” Ngalle said. But you have to understand that no one is out to get you. They’re just trying to make you the best aviator you can be.”

After the big game concluded, Department of Defense military crews returned to their missions around the globe. But rest assured that, by this time next year, some of them will be ready to do it all again for Super Bowl LVIII in Vegas!

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