Blue Angels 'Boss' has roots in Fargo-Moorhead area
Brian Kesselring's boyhood air show experience helped shape future course.
FARGO — When the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels headlined the Fargo AirSho in 1986, the squadron was led by Gil Rud, a native of Portland, N.D., and a graduate of North Dakota State University.
Among those in the crowd watching the show that year were a pair of boys and their dad.
At one point during the Blue Angels' performance, one of the boys had a thought: Someday, he could be a Blue Angels pilot.
That boy was Brian Kesselring.
And when the Blue Angels squadron returns to Fargo for an air show the weekend of July 24-25, Commander Brian Kesselring of the U.S. Navy will be leading the squadron.
Dick Walstad, co-chairman of this year's Fargo AirSho , said he and Rud, who remains a member of the local air show's organizing committee, enjoy telling that story and Walstad said he was reminded of the 1986 air show recently when he came across some programs from the event.
He said he gave one of the programs to Kesselring's father, Curt, who dropped it off for his son during a visit to the Blue Angels headquarters several months ago.
Recalling that airshow in 1986, Curt Kesselring said his son didn't immediately relate his thoughts regarding the Blue Angels, but shared the memory with him some years later.
And according to his father, Brian Kesselring wasn't alone in finding inspiration watching Blue Angels in action.
"If you talk to some Blue Angels, two out of seven — or more — have this same type of story. They were motivated when they saw a Blue Angel flying," Curt Kesselring said.
"It's a powerful recruiting tool for the Navy, whether they know that or not," he added.
Kesselring said his son Brian's leadership style has always been on the understated side.
"He wasn't a leader who banged drums and made lots of noise," said Kesselring, describing his son as a quiet individual who does his speaking through actions.
"He is not one who seeks out recognition. He passes the recognition on," Curt Kesselring said, referring to Brian, whose roots in the area run deep.
He is a native of Fargo and a graduate of Fargo South High School and Moorhead's Concordia College, where he earned an undergraduate degree with majors in physics, mathematics and business.
During his days at Concordia, Kesselring also competed in basketball and track and field.
After college, Kesselring attended officer candidate school in Pensacola, Fla., where he earned his commission as an ensign with the U.S. Navy in 2001.
He was designated a naval aviator in 2003 and later was selected to attend the Navy Fighter Weapons School, known as TOPGUN, where he was a staff instructor from 2008-2011.
In 2019, Kesselring was named the leader of the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, for the squadron's 2020 and 2021 air show seasons.
Walstad said about 30 people have commanded the Blue Angels since the squadron formed in the mid-1940s.
That two of those commanders — traditionally called "The Boss"— have come from North Dakota is something special, according to Walstad.
"That is really a rare situation, particularly when you factor in that they were both at the same show in 1986," Walstad added.
The Fargo AirSho's current organizing committee has about 70 people who are all volunteers, according to Walstad, who said if the air show makes any money it is given away.
Over the past 30 years the nonprofit organization has given more than $600,000 to community groups, according to Walstad.
This year's show has a budget of more than $700,000.
"It's easy to say this is a million-dollar show, because we're going to burn up $300,000 worth of fuel in the process," Walstad said.
This year marks the 75th anniversary season for the Blue Angels, with the squadron having switched this year to flying the F/A-18E Super Hornet.
The switchover is the first time the team has changed aircraft since it transitioned from the A-4F Skyhawk II to the F/A-18 Hornet in 1986.
For ticket information and other details about the air show, visit: www.fargoairsho.com/faq .
If You Go:
What: Fargo AirSho
When: July 24-25. Gates open at 9:30 a.m. each day. AirSho starts at about 11 a.m. Exact performance times vary due to the fluid nature of the show.
Where: Hector International Airport, Fargo.