Navy hopes Whidbey 24 spotlight dims

By Brian Kelly

Herald Writer

OAK HARBOR – It may be time for the Whidbey 24 to comb the confetti from their hair and get back to work.

Offers continue to come in for speaking engagements, book deals, press interviews and television appearances for the surveillance plane crew.

Although the publicity has been positive since they came home after 11 days as captives on the Chinese island of Hainan, the Navy is hoping the crew can slip offstage after Memorial Day.

“It’s good for the Navy people to have this local one-on-one personal contact; it gives people an idea of who we have in the military. These 24 people are truly representative of what every part of our Navy is,” said Kim Martin, spokeswoman for the Whidbey Naval Air Station.

“It is part of their duty. But they also, at this point, need to get back into their operational training cycle or get back to their direct mission, which is reconnaissance,” she said.

Despite weeks of celebrations and ceremonies, that’s not likely to happen right away, though.

The Whidbey crew will be honored before the start of the Seattle Mariners-Baltimore Orioles game on May 29 at Safeco Field, and all 14 of the VQ-1 crew members based on Whidbey will be called onto the field before the game. Lt. Shane Osborn, the much-acclaimed pilot who safely landed the crippled craft after its collision with a Chinese fighter jet, has agreed to throw out the first pitch.

“Since we don’t actually play on Memorial Day, we thought that the day after would be a great day to honor them,” said Marty Northcroft, marketing coordinator for the Mariners.

“Everybody’s seen the news coverage and seen what they’ve done,” he said. “Any local people who get invited to the White House, we figure we’d love to have out at the ballpark.”

There should be a supportive crowd, too. About 200 members from the VQ-1 community have tickets to the game, Northcroft said.

The Mariners have been trying to get the crew to come to a game since their return from Hainan, but weren’t immediately successful because of the 30-day vacation the Navy gave the crew after they came home.

When the leave was over, though, phones at the Navy’s public information office at the Whidbey base started ringing again with requests.

“We’re talking close to 50 since May 12,” Martin said.

Some have called wanting to land some of the crew members for speaking engagements. Others have asked to schedule appearances so crew members could be given awards, such as the annual convention of the Association of Naval Aviation this weekend in San Diego, Calif., where Osborn will be presented an award for “extraordinary airmanship.”

None of the crew members are represented by an agent, but Martin said she has passed along three book offers to the Navy office in New York City that handles such requests.

Lt. Kathy Sandoz, deputy director of Navy Office of Information-East, said there were rumors of book deals floating around, but she had not actually seen one yet.

Whether or not there’s a book on the crew’s ordeal will depend, in some part, on whether the crew members want to talk about it, Sandoz said.

“If somebody wants to talk to Lt. Shane Osborn, and he’s says I don’t want to talk … we go with their wishes. It can be as simple as ‘I’m not up to that’ or ‘Sure, let’s do it.’”

Requests are also reviewed by the chief of naval information in Washington, D.C.

And then there’s been the press from the media.

“They’ve been on every show you can imagine,” Martin said. Those include appearances on most of the major network morning programs, as well as news shows such as “Larry King Live” and “Nightline.”

“They still have an offer to do an appearance on ‘The Edge With Paula Zahn,’” Martin said, referring to the Fox TV news program.

“One of the cutest ones was a phone call from a second-grader,” she said, recalling an elementary school student in Birmingham, Mich., who wanted a one-on-one with Senior Chief Petty Officer Nicholas Mellos, an Ypsilanti native. “He wanted to do an interview for their school’s news station.”

You can call Herald Writer Brian Kelly at 425-339-3422 or send e-mail to

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