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The Dual Life of Staff Sgt. Tim Donovan: From Quiet Pararescueman to High-Flying Demonstrator


The Dual Life of Staff Sgt. Tim Donovan: From Quiet Pararescueman to High-Flying Demonstrator

In the quiet expanse of Hurlburt Field, Florida, Staff Sgt. Tim Donovan of the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron has honed his skills as a pararescueman, mastering the art of silent insertion behind enemy lines. For 16 years, Donovan's contributions to special operations have unfolded away from the public eye, marked by the relentless pursuit of excellence and the readiness to deploy immediately.

However, Donovan's role has taken a dramatic turn, propelling him into the limelight as a vital member of the Air Force Special Operations Command's Parachute Demonstration Team, known as STARS (Special Tactics and Rescue Specialists). This elite group, composed of combat controllers and pararescuemen like Donovan, dazzles audiences of up to 100,000 people and millions of television viewers with precision skydiving and aerial maneuvers.

The STARS team plays a crucial role beyond entertainment; they are at the forefront of the Air Force's recruitment efforts, mainly targeting individuals interested in the challenging and critically understaffed fields of combat control (CCT) and pararescue (PJ). Wayne Norrad, STARS coordinator and a retired CCT chief master sergeant, emphasizes the dual purpose of their demonstrations: to showcase the Air Force's quality of life and skills training while drawing attention to the CCT and PJ career paths.

The inception of STARS traces back to an incidental beginning when CCTs from McChord AFB in Washington supported local recruitment efforts through their parachute jumps. Mistaken identities at one event led to the formal establishment of a team that would unmistakably represent the Air Force, culminating in the official formation of STARS in 1996. Their inaugural jumps, including a memorable landing at an NFL game, marked the beginning of a new era for Air Force recruitment and public engagement.

Unlike their Thunderbird counterparts, STARS members maintain operational roles within the Air Force, ready to transition from performers to combat-ready service members immediately. This dual responsibility underscores their commitment to their military duties and their role in inspiring the next generation of Air Force personnel.

Including CCTs and PJs from various commands, including the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command, reflects the growing demand for STARS and the unique skill set required for membership, including extensive free-fall experience and precision landing capabilities.

For Donovan and his teammates, STARS is more than just an opportunity to showcase their skills; it's a platform to raise awareness about the Air Force's unique tactics and capabilities, often overshadowed by their counterparts in other military branches. Their demonstrations serve as a powerful recruitment tool, bridging the gap between the known and the lesser-known elements of military service.

As Donovan reflects on his experiences, from the intensity of combat operations to the thrill of parachute demonstrations, his journey embodies the multifaceted nature of modern military service—where the call to action meets the call to inspire and where duty extends beyond the battlefield to the hearts and minds of potential future airmen.

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