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Howard Altman: Air Force turns to original Phillie Phanatic to develop mascot

Air Mobility Command, the Air Force headquarters overseeing MacDill Air Force Base, wants to develop its own mascot to help interest children in a career with the flying branch. And they are turning to the original Phillie Phanatic, David Raymond, for help.

Raymond, who wore the iconic fuzzy-green costume until 1994, runs Raymond Entertainment, a company that creates mascots for sports teams and corporations.

So why an Air Mobility Command mascot?

That was my first question when the concept was presented to me by Air Force Col. Christopher Karns, spokesman for the command.

Air Force athletic teams already have mascots, usually one type of falcon or another.

But the new mascot would offer "an opportunity to inform people about the Air Force with a tie to education and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) initiatives," Karns said.

The mascot might offer comfort and assurance in future operations, he said.

But the main mission is education and recruitment.

"We are pursuing innovative ways to connect with schools," Karns said, "to improve education and inform students about possibilities in the Air Force. "

Creating a mascot takes a lot of thought and the process is still in its early stages.

"It is a step-by-step process," said Raymond, who became the first Phanatic while serving as an intern with the Phillies, who happen to be in town this week playing the Rays.

The first step, he said, is getting the client to identify the story they want to tell with the mascot.

"A back story is vital to capture the interest of fans," he said.

Once Raymond’s team gets the story outline, he takes it to a designer to start drawing up a concept, he said.

Raymond then shows the design to the client, and they go back and forth refining the concept, adding colors and wardrobe until everyone is on the same page. Then the team builds out the costume.

The whole process takes about seven months, Raymond said, and can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $100,000, depending on the complexity of the costume. Disney characters, for instance, have all kinds of animatronic features that add to the cost.

"We’ll get a tremendous amount of use out of the mascot with strategic impact," Karns said. "I imagine we’ll be in a price range below $10,000 if possible. When you consider the amount of use, the impact on storytelling and potential recruiting effects, the cost will be an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars."

So why the Phanatic?

Raymond read an editorial Karns wrote about the STEAM programs like one recently held at MacDill and reached out to him. Both men are Philly area natives, so it turned out to be kismet.

"An iconic mascot such as the Phillie Phanatic and an innovator like Mr Raymond allows the opportunity to learn from his considerable experience connecting with audiences," Karns said.

"Philly sports is known as a tough crowd, yet the iconic Phanatic resonates. The Phillie Phanatic is invited into schools, hospitals, civic events. You name it, the Phanatic is recognizable and to a tough town like Philadelphia beloved."

The Phanatic turns 40 on April 25th.

"That’s a lot of lessons learned in 40 years," Karns said. "Being born in Philly and a fan of each of its sports teams, I can say this: If the Phanatic can navigate the highs and lows of Philly baseball for 40 years and be viewed as an iconic figure known for connecting people, why not apply these lessons to helping people understand what the Air Force is all about?"

If you have an idea for what the AMC mascot should look like, drop me a line at [email protected] I’ll pass it along.

•••

There were no casualties announced last week by the Pentagon in named military operations, but it was a tragic week for military aviation.

Capt. Samuel A. Schultz, 28, of Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania, First Lt. Samuel D. Phillips, 27, of Pinehurst, North Carolina, Gunnery Sgt. Derik R. Holley, 33, of Dayton, Ohio, and Lance Cpl. Taylor J. Conrad, 24, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 465, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, MCAS Miramar, were killed as a result of a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crash in the vicinity of El Centro, California April 3.

Air Force Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, 34, of Valencia, California, a pilot with the Thunderbirds, was killed April 4 when his F-16 crashed during practice near Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ryan Connolly, 37 and Warrant Officer James Casadona, 28 of the 101st Combat Aviation "Destiny" Brigade, 101st Airborne Division were killed in an AH-64E Apache helicopter crash at Fort Campbel, Kentucky, April 6.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 49 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan; 54 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; and four deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a title, officials will not divulge it.

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman

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