Tops in Blue Tuesday features local Airman

By Tyler Hemstreet on November 4, 2011

Senior Airman James Santos left McChord Field in January as talented trumpet player prepared to tackle one of the most difficult challenges in his life.

He will return to the base next week as a polished musician with more than 10 months of hard work underneath his belt.

The 25-year-old Airman from the 62nd Maintenance Squadron was selected to become a member of the 2011 Tops in Blue tour after wowing judges at the annual Air Force Worldwide Talent Search at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in December 2010.

Tops in Blue continues its 2011 tour with a performance at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Hangar 9 at McChord Field.

The 2011 edition of Tops In Blue is entitled "Rhythm Nation."  The performances will feature music from Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and many more. The show will also pay tribute to the heroes of Sept. 11, 2001 as the performers recognize their sacrifices 10 years later.

"I expected it to be one of the most difficult things I've ever done in my life, and it has been," Santos said via phone last week from Portugal.

In addition to performing, Tops in Blue members work to break down and build up the stage at every stop on tour. They must also fit into their schedule time to rehearse, meet with other Airmen and base leadership and still find time for themselves to relax.

"It's not your average day of work in the U.S. Air Force," said the Vacaville, Calif. native.

But despite the many demands, Santos had cherished the experience. He has visited Belgium, Turkey, Italy, Germany, Spain, England and Uruguay.

"You either sleep or you get to experience the world," Santos said with a laugh.

While Santos admits it has been hard to sacrifice so much of his personal time for the sake of the tour ("I'm a guy that likes my personal time ... it gets difficult.") he said his musical skills have increased tenfold.

"I'm better at the trumpet than I expected to be," he said. "They have professional musicians coming in to teach you. They are there for you to pick their brain."

And although Santos has always been his own toughest critic, he said the tour has helped him build patience when it comes to his own learning curve.

"It pushes you to get better and makes me not focus so much on where I'm lacking," he said.

Santos will likely get a big emotional lift from the stop at McChord Field. His mother will be in attendance to see him play, and some of his coworkers from the squadron's

precision measurement equipment laboratory are also expected to come to the show.

"Those of us who have worked with him are eager to have him back in the area,"

said Master Sgt. Aaron Weslow, Santos' former supervisor. "I'm looking forward

to the show and his return."

"It's hard being away, but it's the mission we signed up for," Santos said.

After the McChord Field performance, the group will travel to Hawaii and then hit the Pacific Rim before heading to several deployed locations for the holidays.

"It will be neat to bring our guys a piece of home," the Airman said. "I'm looking forward to providing something special for them during the holidays."