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Another tribute to front line workers takes to Metro Detroit skies

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Pharmacist Suzette Ripepe was one of the first to arrive on the front lawn of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit on Wednesday, eagerly waiting for Michigan's Air National Guard to fly over in honor of her and her colleagues.

After missing the Blue Angels zooming across the city the day prior, Ripepe smiled at the sky, saying she couldn't lose her second chance.

"This is the warmest I've ever felt as a health care worker," said Ripepe, who has been a pharmacist for 41 years. "It's so nice to be recognized. I'm already a part of an organization that supports Selfridge, so this has a double meaning for me and I couldn't miss it."

Hospital workers watch as a KC-135 Stratotanker and three A-10 Thunderbolt II planes with from the Michigan Air National Guard pass over Henry Ford Hospital in Wyandotte, Wednesday.

Three A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog" jets led by a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 127th Wing took off from Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township Wednesday afternoon to salute the workers on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. The display came a day after the Blue Angels buzzed through Metro Detroit with their own tribute.

During the 35-minute flyover, the four pilots streaked passed Novi Hospital, Livonia-Mercy, Henry Ford Hospitals in Wyandotte and Detroit, the Detroit riverfront, Detroit Medical Center, DMC's Sinai-Grace Hospital, Beaumont Royal Oak, Gleaners Food Bank, Troy Children's Hospital, Utica, McLaren's Macomb-Clinton Township, Ascension St. John, Beaumont Grosse Pointe, Harrison Township, New Baltimore and Chesterfield Township.

Nearly 100 health care workers gathered outside the main entrance of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, while others crowded on top of rooftops and across West Grand Boulevard waving to the fleet as the jets passed over.

Three A-10 Warthogs from the Michigan National Guard's 127th Air Wing fly over  Detroit, Michigan on May 13, 2020.

"It means a lot to be in this situation, which is very stressful, and to see people appreciate us. Acts like this really hit home for a lot of us," said Teresa Jokic, a nurse at Henry Ford for 26 years. "People weren't as much aware of what we did before the pandemic. We can't just leave our position when an emergency happens and people are starting to understand that."

"I took a break to go for a walk yesterday, someone rolled down their window just to say thank you," added the Windsor resident. "That's never happened before."

Selfridge held a series of multi-city flyovers this week to show appreciation for the front-line workers. Crews flew over Grand Rapids, Marquette and Houghton on Tuesday, but Wednesday was the last, for now. Selfridge officials said they wanted to end the series with Detroit, and passed over the hard-hit city twice.

"I feel really supported here, with lots of police parades, food donations. ... It's a lot compared to other places," said Ripepe, from Grosse Pointe Woods. "We have a lot of pressure from our family members not to work and many have even retired. My sister is 73 and is still supervising at a hospital because we can't just not help, it's part of the gig."

These efforts are not about the aircraft, the military or the National Guard, the 127th Wing said on Facebook.

Michigan National Guard's 127th Air Wing with a KC-135 tanker and three A-10 Warthogs fly over  Detroit, Michigan on May 13, 2020.

"These flights are about thanking and saluting front line Michiganders. It's about the steadfast first responders in our communities, the healthcare professionals working ceaseless hours, the grocery store workers helping us keep food on the table, and all the other essential workers who are reporting to work every day despite the pandemic," the 127th Wing said in a statement.

"Thank you for keeping our children, our parents, and our grandparents healthy and safe!"

Selfridge Commander Rolf Mammen said in a video update that the mission continues despite the pandemic, and he could not be prouder of Michigan's soldiers.

"Since the governor declared an emergency, we have over 900 soldiers and airmen who are engaged in this effort," he said. "Our airmen are out there engaged daily in different operations. We have airmen at TCF Center in Detroit working logistics, at food banks packaging over 500 tons of food feeding more than 400 families a day, and airmen engaged with a team of people at a testing site."

A KC-135 Stratotanker followed by three A-10 Thunderbolt II planes with the Michigan Air National Guard pass over Henry Ford Hospital in Wyandotte, Wednesday.

In addition to their COVID response, Mammen said they are maintaining the readiness and focus on their federal missions.

"The A-10s are flying every day," he said. "They are maintaining our federal mission and war-fighting posture every day doing great work."


Twitter: @SarahRahal_