Photo by Joe Nickle | Capt. Jeff Kuss, UMC, standing in front of the #7 Blue Angels plane, which he piloted at the 2015 Defenders of Liberty air show at Barksdale Air Force Base.

Local photographer pays tribute to fallen Blue Angels pilot

By Joe Nickle | Special to the Press-Tribune

Capt. Jeff Kuss, USMC, with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels died June 2 when his jet (#6) crashed into a field during a practice fun for the Great Tennessee Air Show in Smyrna, TN. He was 32-years-old and leaves behind a wife and two children. According to his official Blue Angels biography, Kuss joined the elite acrobatics team in 2014 and accumulated more than 1,400 flight hours. A native of Durango, CO, Kuss was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Marines in 2006. He previously served in Afghanistan before joining the Blue Angels. Capt. Kuss was in Bossier City last year for the 2015 Defenders of Liberty Air Show at Barksdale Air Force Base. 

The following is a submitted article:

I’ve had the opportunity to meet and to get to know a lot of people and individuals these past 26 years of snappin’ pix.  As a professional photographer though, once the shutter clicks and the assignment is complete, you move on to your next job, never to give today’s work another thought.  Only when you have the opportunity to go through boxes of old negatives or archived hard drives months, but in most cases years, later are you able to stop, think, ponder and reflect.

Sometimes, when sorting through old images, I’ll think to myself, “Wow, did I really photograph that person?” Or, a photo will spark a recollection about the timeframe or remind me of a story the person told me.   However, there are certain events and in this case, an individual who’s character, professionalism and congeniality made an impression upon me so profound, forgetting him would be impossible.

I’m referring to recently deceased, Blue Angels pilot, Capt. Jeff Kuss, USMC.

Photo by Joe Nickle
Photo by Joe Nickle

I’d spent a few days covering the 2015 Defender’s of Liberty air show at Barksdale AFB for The Bossier Press Tribune newspaper.  A day or two before the air show, a single member of the “Blues” team arrived early in order to provide Media Flights to three members of our local community.  On this day, our fellow citizens would be flying with the then Blue Angels #7 pilot, Capt. Kuss.

When I met Jeff Kuss for the first time, he’d walked up from behind us (his crew chief, the three guest riders, and myself) while we were getting a close up look at his jet staged immediately outside of the Public Affairs building.  He greeted us with a large smile and extended hand.  Introductions were made all around and I instantly recognized this man’s humility and was impressed at the lengths he went through to make his soon-to-be passengers feel completely at ease.

The crew chief’s pre-flight class followed during which Jeff made several appearances. At times, he’d  poke his head in the door and make a little joke in an effort to bring a bit of levity to the very serious discussion going on, in particular on one occasion, the F-18 Emergency Egress Procedures, ie. air crew ejection.   The two hour long class over, the guest rider’s donned their VIP flight suits, and we walked back out to the plane.

Now, it got “real.”  Just as one might expect, Capt. Jeff Kuss, USMC was all business.  Crew chief Sandusky strapped in the first rider while Capt. Kuss performed a “walk around” of the jet.  The pilot then climbed the ladder to “strap on his jet.”  But, not before leaning over the aft seat and giving each rider a pep talk and words or encouragement.

It was later explained to me that he tried his best to convey to each passenger what was about happen to the aircraft and to their body’s and to let him know what kind of ride they wanted.  All would tell him they didn’t want him to hold anything back, much to one guest’s chagrin.

Capt. Jeff Kuss made three media flights that day and I’m sure provided each of his passengers a memory for life.  I know he did so for me.  He was a good man.  He was an officer and a gentleman.

Jeff,  it was good to have met ‘ya.  Semper Fi.