Helena native part of Thunderbirds team; excited to showcase Montana

If you’re at the Flight Over the Falls airshow this weekend, you might notice some Thunderbird 10 t-shirts in the crowd.

That’s because Thunderbird 10 is Capt. Angelina Urbina.

She’s the team’s executive officer and grew up in Helena. Her dad’s side of the family is from Great Falls.

Many of her friends and family members will be in the crowd this weekend.

“It feels so good to be home,” Urbina said. “It’s an immense sense of pride.”

In her third season with the Thunderbirds, she said it’s great to show off our state to the team.

“I’ve been talking it up to the team,” she said.

Staff Sgts. Nickolas David and Aaron Dlutowski also Montana natives with the team. David is from Libby and Dlutowski from Pompey’s Pillar. They’re both part of the maintenance team.

Urbina graduated from Helena High School in 1997 and spent some time at Carroll College before transferring to the University of Montana. After graduating from UM, she worked at the university with their Upward Bound program for a decade.

Her dad was in the Navy for 10 years, but her passion was always education. She got to a point where she was challenged with prepping kids for life, but didn’t feel like she had a full breadth of life experience.

So she started researching the Air Force and made it through the Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama to be commissioned as an officer. Her first assignment was at Andrews AFB, outside Washington, D.C., which is the home of Air Force One. She was picked up for the Thunderbirds in 2015 and said the job has given her the opportunity to travel extensively and meet dignitaries worldwide, as well as work with airmen from all over the country. 

“I serve with pretty incredible people,” Urbina said.

She went through OTS at 30 and was already married. It’s not uncommon for OTS trainees to be older and married, but most are in their early to mid-20s. Some are prior enlisted military members.

Urbina said she was nervous and excited going into OTS, which was a “big life change…it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.”

Her Air Force career field is personnelist, which translated to human resources in the civilian world.

Friday morning she met with Upward Bound students from the Montana Tech program.

Tyler Farmer, 15, is part of that program and from Anaconda.

He and the other Upward Bound students watched the practice show Friday afternoon and said, “it was awesome. I give it five stars.”

Tyler said he’d met other cool people in his life, but the Thunderbirds were some of the coolest.

Meeting Urbina was interesting, Tyler said, because it “basically proved that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.”

Urbina said it was a cool experience to come back as a Thunderbird. Her advice? Take risks and make good choices.

“I never would have imagined I would have the opportunity to work with the Thunderbirds,” Urbina said.

As the Thunderbirds executive officer, Urbina handles most of the mission support operations, oversees the unit’s budget, and handles things like promotions, assignments and more.

It’s a very busy job and her work to support the unit commander is different since he flies so much as Thunderbird No. 1.

But the job is similar to her work at Upward Bound and she said her experience at UM has translated well into what she does now.

Urbina travels with the team about 80 percent of the time since sometimes the job requires her to stay at home base at Nellis AFB in Nevada.

The team is loving Big Sky Country, she said, and part of her safety brief here included watching out for bears and not hiking alone. The team members had a few down days and some went to Glacier National Park and around town they’ve gone running on the river, eaten at Fire Artisan Pizza and grabbed caffeine boost at Electric City Coffee.

Urbina will be wrapping up her tour with the Thunderbirds this fall and headed to Germany for her next assignment. She said she’ll stick with the Air Force for the forseeable future, but thinks she’ll one day go back into education.

Her husband was part of the 120th from 2007 to 2010 when it was still a fighter unit flying F-16s.

Urbina said it seems to her that the 120th has transitioned well to the C-130s and that Great Falls has developed quite a bit since the last time she was in town. She said she met a lot of the 120th members while her husband was here for drill weekends and thought they were pretty great.

“It was kind of the folks at the 120th who inspired me to join the Air Force,” she said.

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While in Great Falls, Urbina said the team visited the pediatric ward at Benefis Health System on Thursday and they did a meet and greet with local Big Brothers Big Sisters participants after the practice show on Friday.

Urbina said it’s been great to be home for this event and especially to meet with the Upward Bound students.

“It’s cool to have had the opportunity to do something unique and come back and say, ‘See Montana kids can do really cool stuff.'”

It’s also been fun to show off her home state.

“It means a lot to come back,” she said. “This is an awesome place. Every day the team comes up to me and says ‘Your state is awesome.'”

One of their goals, Urbina said, is to have the community say the team was great to work with and that makes the hard work worth it.

“We know it take a lot of work” to put on an airshow.

“We’re honored and humbled to represent the airmen you have in your community,” Urbina said, speaking of the airmen of the 120th Airlift Wing and those at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Even though the job is often fun, Urbina said, “We never forget that our job is to represent the airmen that are in here in the local community and thank them for everything they do everyday.”