Tops in Blue forges leaders at every level

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Daryl Knee
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
It has been seven months since she left.

The quiet girl everyone knew is now gone.

She endured seven long months of grueling, rigorous training. She struggled but overcame. And finally, she mastered the instrumental, vocal, choreography and staging requirements of her new profession.

Some would balk at her new level of responsibility, but for Airman 1st Class Jessica Pitts, 606th Air Control Squadron, the 2012 touring season of Tops in Blue has been a way for her to do what she loves and still serve the U.S. Air Force.

"Don't give up on your dreams," Pitts said to Airmen who are seeking to find their niche in today's service. "Stay focused and never say you can't do something."

Pitts, a cyber systems operations apprentice, is a trumpet player and vocalist with the group and has been touring the United States and parts of the world since May. The 2012 tour is called "Listen" and explains how words, sounds and music affect the listener. Emotions and feelings are controlled by what is heard; for example, there is a difference in emotions between the sound of a crying newborn and the news of a friend's death.

The Sept. 27 performance included covers from popular music groups from the 70s until now. Throughout the show, the Tops in Blue members encouraged the audience to clap their hands or tap their feet.

A child who looked near 8-years-old sat in the front row of the stage seating. She had rolled her Tops in Blue program guide into a microphone and sang along with the performers during a Whitney Houston cover. She didn't know the words, just enough of the melody to add her small, faint voice to the overall cacophony of the crowd.

Three technicians stood in a line behind the sound system control deck, scouring the panels to make minute adjustments to the performers' volume. Their hands glided across the knobs, dials and slides with the familiarity of longtime friends.

Near the back of the gym apart from the stage and bleacher seating sat a family. The mother and father clapped their hands to the beat of the music while their children, who had lost interest in the performance, toddled back and forth across the gym floor. One began to cry, and the mother swooped up the child to murmur comfort, their cheeks pressed together.

On the stage, the performers moved in time with their music. It seemed as if the trombonist could anticipate the routine of the dancers directly in front of him; the trombone's slide dodged in and out of the dance movements with the precision of a well-wound metronome.

The crowd's cheer reached its pinnacle when Pitts took the stage for her trumpet and vocal solo.

"Airman Pitts is amazing," said Staff Sgt. Katie McGuire, Tops in Blue keyboardist. "When everyone started cheering, you could tell she has some people here who really care about her."

Courtney Smith, a member of Pitts' church family, met with Pitts after the show and said she has broken out of her shell. The church family supported Pitts before and during the audition process in March and believes that good prayer led Pitts to where she is today.

"The best thing about Tops in Blue is that it gives Airmen a chance to gain confidence and leadership skills," McGuire said. "The squadron is going to get back stronger Airmen, and (those Airmen) can take those abilities with them throughout their entire career.

"Pitts is a poster child for how people can change and grow into the person they are meant to be," McGuire added.

Pitts said her dream to perform stems from the influence of her parents who were both a part of the U.S. Army Soldier Show -- the Army's version of Tops in Blue -- in the 1980s. Her parents had told her about showmanship and performing, and Pitts began to hone her natural talent into something the Air Force could use.

She encourages people who have similar dreams or talent to try out for Tops in Blue during their worldwide talent search in February 2013. The deadline for the application process is Dec. 14.

"Go ahead and audition," she said. "You have five minutes on stage, so let everything you have show in that audition. And as I've said before, don't give up on your dreams."

Pitts returns to the 606th ACS after the touring season ends early next year. Gone is the quiet, reserved Airman, and in her stead is a confident, outspoken leader.