Blue Angel Full Circle
One guy and his desire to fly
Knobby-kneed in their shorts and polo shirts, clutching toy Blue Angel jet replicas, they posed for the picture. At just 3 years old, twin brothers Matt and Johan Suyderhoud were attending their first airshow. Behind them in the photo, kneeling down and pointing the boys toward the camera was Lt. David Anderson, a Blue Angels Pilot. Click.
More than 25 years later, there is another photo of Matt Suyderhoud and David Anderson. Only now Lt. Suyderhoud and Real Admiral (Ret) Anderson are standing side by side, the former Blue Angel pilot to the left, and the newest Blue Angel pilot to the right. Click.
Turns out Suyderhoud never did stop clutching that Blue Angel jet.
"I've met several young men over the years who say they remember watching our Team perform," said Anderson, who is now president of the Blue Angels Association. "I've been fortunate enough to have several friends whose children say they decided to serve in our military based on some of my conversation or interaction with them over the years. This includes family members and even my oldest son. But this particular event with Matt is a first for me."
This may have been a first for Anderson, but this is what the Blue Angels exist for - one of their sole purposes. The third line of the creed states: "The faces of children thrilled today by blue and gold are the faces I wish to see take my place tomorrow." Anderson had lived up to the creed. He was indeed watching that thrilled face take his place.
"Seeing him again all these years later was such a cool experience," said Suyderhoud. "It was at the end of the year show here in Pensacola and there were a ton of former team members around, which is traditional. Rear Adm. Anderson was actually a friend of my uncle's when he was on the team so my uncle had told me to look for him at the show. I had spent quite a bit of time roaming the halls of the squadron looking at photos of the old teams and finding Hollywood's face among the team members. (Hollywood was Rear Adm. Anderson's call sign.) I was walking around before the Saturday show and I stopped by the Blue Angels Family and Friends tent to chat with some former team members. I asked if he was there and right as I said that, up walks Rear Adm. Anderson! I said, 'Sir! I'm not sure if you remember...' he cut me off and said 'I sure do.' It was wild. I had a great time talking with him there and at the end of the season party later that weekend. That, to me, really epitomized the family that you become part of when you become a Blue Angel."
Although becoming part of the Blue Angel family has meant an incredible amount to Suyderhoud, he credits his blood family for getting him there, specifically his brother Johan, aka Lt. Johan Suyderhoud. Johan is also an F-18 pilot.
After graduating from Saint Louis University where they played ice hockey, they both decided to join the Navy.
"We were in the same OCS class, the same API class, the same Primary class, and we both got jets and went to NAS Kingsville together, said Matt. "We also went to VFA-122, the Super Hornet FRS together. We were separated when we went to the fleet. Johan went to VFA-102 in Japan and I stayed at NAS Lemoore with VFA-154."
The brothers were both finalists for the Blue Angels in 2012 but were not selected that year. Johan did not try out again in 2014 because he will soon be heading to SEAL Team One as a Joint Terminal Air Controller.
"It was an awesome experience even though we didn't make the team in 2012," said Johan. "This past year the Boss asked both of us to try out again, but I had worked hard to get a spot as a Fires Officer with the SEAL teams and didn't want to repay the favor by trying out for the Blues. I felt that would be a poor team player move. I also thought Matty would be a better fit for the team, as he is the more gregarious of the two of us so we discussed those things and I said go for it."
When Matt was selected, Johan said he was extremely proud.
"I gave him a big hug and poured a beer on his head if i remember correctly," said Johan. We were at a little gathering and it seemed like a good idea at the time. It's an incredible accomplishment and I am as proud as anyone can be."
"He is my best friend and I would certainly not be here without him," said Matt. "There is some friendly competition there but really we are each other's number one fan. He is an incredible aviator and certainly inspires me to get better every day."
That competition has extended to their off time as well. Although Suyderhoud has an extremely busy schedule with the Blues, which includes studying until the first brief each day, then flying, then a debrief, then another brief, more flying and another debrief, then meetings and collateral duties, he and his brother spend time each weekend learning to speak Swedish.
"This is a product of our competitiveness," said Matt. "Johan was planning a trip to Sweden for some leave and decided to learn some phrases before he went. I joined him on the trip and got jealous that he was able to do something that I couldn't so I started learning it too. We both finished the entire Rosetta stone syllabus and then started taking lessons together through skype from a former professor of Swedish at the University of Stockholm who freelances now."
When he's not trying to one up his brother at a new language, he's working out.
"I used to play a lot of sports but have stopped that for the time being," said Suyderhoud. "If I get hurt, there is no replacement pilot to fill my spot. That goes for all members of the team."
Currently the team is in winter training, getting ready for the show season. Suyderhoud's first show will be March 14 in El Centro, Calif.
"It is a bit daunting to think my first show is that close because it almost feels like I am learning to fly all over again," said Suyderhoud. "But, we keep getting better every day and the challenge of learning and perfecting the maneuvers is a ton of fun."
Rear Adm. Anderson has continued to mentor Suyderhoud. Suyderhoud is a perfect reminder to Anderson that the most memorable aspects of being a Blue Angel is meeting and talking with the young people.
"Whether it was the Friday morning visits to high school and college campuses, visits to hospital wards or on the crowd line, the memory of the young people you meet never really leaves you," said Anderson.
"Honestly, I'm sometimes at a loss for words," said Suyderhoud. "It is a tremendous honor to have a chance to encourage kids to work hard and follow their dreams, whether that is through military service or not. It is also a great honor to represent the men and women of the Navy and Marine Corps who, I think, embody the ideals of patriotism and courage that America was founded on."
At some point Suyderhoud will encounter a 3-year-old child and he will pose for a photo. And as that child clutches a toy replica of a Blue Angel Jet, so might they also be clutching a dream that Suyderhoud will be a small part of. Click.
Author's Note: When I reached out to Rear Adm. (Ret) Anderson for this article, he sent along a special attachment. He was featured on the cover of the July 1986 issue of All Hands Magazine back when he was a Blue Angels Pilot. I thought that was pretty cool and a perfect full circle.
Interested in being a Blue Angel Pilot?
During a period of approximately five to six years between Junior Officer and Department Head tours, pilots are eligible for the Blue Angels. You need a minimum of 1,250 hours in a tactical jet, and there is no active duty time requirement. Qualifications are normal of anyone completing their first tour with a Navy Squadron, so there isn't anything "special" in that regard. All applications and paperwork are available online at www.blueangels.navy.mil
. There you will find further details.
Once a person applies they are asked to attend two or three air shows between March and June to interact with the team and see if the team would be a good fit for them and vice versa. Of the roughly 40-50 applicants that apply each year only 12-15 will be brought down to finalist week in Pensacola, Fla., in mid-July. During that week more interviews are conducted along with various social activities. At the end of that week the team sits down to discuss and eventually vote on who they would like to join them for the following year's team. Each year five or six officers are selected.