RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – Naval Air Station Pensacola is a place where many pilots and their families have been over the years, including Blue Angels pilot Captain Jeff Kuss, who will be honored in the final air show of the season this Friday.
Capt. Kuss tragically lost his life this past June when his jet crashed just a day before the Great Tennessee Airshow in Smyrna, Tennessee.
In these few months since his death, his widow Christina and his two young children have been cared for by their military family, and that’s something Christina wanted to share, along with her hope for what can be done for any veteran in need.
If things had gone as planned, Christina Kuss would be preparing for a homecoming this weekend, heading to Naval Air Station to meet her husband with their children, Calvin and Sloan.
“Fly-ins on Sunday nights with the Blue Angels are so fun. Little mini homecomings welcome him home after a week on the road, seeing all the kids, all the Blue Angel kids run up to their dads and give them hugs,” she told News 2.
The end of this 2016 season is a milestone for Christina after her husband’s tragic death. She’s made it this far.
“Since June 2, the town of Pensacola has really wrapped my family in love,” she said. “Things like seeing six flags in my old neighborhood or down at the beach, or six stickers on people’s cars.”
Capt. Kuss flew jet No. 6 for the Blue Angels.
In the immediate aftermath, it was seeing Mike Campbell that helped pull her through. He’s a former Blue Angel and now head of the Blue Angels Foundation.
“He flew in to assist me during a time when I was extremely overwhelmed, which was a grand gesture in and of itself,” Christina said.
“Through tragedy, a friendship emerged,” Mike told News 2. “It’s just what you do. It’s kind of the Blue Angels way, and she’s a member of the family. She always will be. I’m happy to know her.”
Together, they are working through the foundation on two major fronts, one of which is to assist wounded veterans of any military branch to get back into the workplace.
“You may have a significant injury. You may have PTS, but we’re going to help you with that and we’re going to put you in programs that will give you the self-confidence and self-esteem to go out and be a productive member of the community, and it’s really exciting,” Mike explained.
The Blue Angels Foundation is also life-saving, working to reduce veteran suicide.
“We understand there’s an average of 22 wounded veterans taking their lives on average every day,” Mike said. “There are approximately 6,200 men and women killed in action since 9/11, and we’re losing 8,000 to suicide every year right here at home.”
Christina has since taken to social media with the 22 for 22 campaign, doing 22 push-ups and encouraging donations of $22.
“The foundation is doing some incredible work, really tangible work, and if people want to do something that’s really near and dear to my heart, this is… it’s a great one,” she said.
It’s something, she says, her husband would have done, and it’s a way to honor him.
“He was always my inspiration. That’s why I fell in love with Jeff. Just one of those that’s magnetic, and you’re like, ‘Wow. You make me want to do better,’” Christina told News 2.
Learn how you can help and find more information at BlueAngelsFoundation.org. To donate, you can text “give22” to 850-517-1280.
Christina remembers life, marriage with late husband
Christina spoke to News 2 at length about the life she and her husband shared. She says her husband spent more than 300 days a year away, so she tried to make the most of family time.
“It’s fun, you know. I packed up the kids and went to 10 air shows last year and made it an experience. That was my mission, and he appreciated that so much that support, that we were there and making it happen. It certainly wasn’t easy or inexpensive, but it’s just an opportunity we knew we’d never get again. Go to really cool places and be together as a family. I wouldn’t give it up for the world now.”
Christina went on to share what she was doing the day Capt. Kuss died.
“The kids and I were en route to Smyrna the day of Jeff’s crash. As we pulled into town, that rainbow began to appear and it became very bright and full.”
Christina believes this was a message from her husband.
“For me, it was Jeff saying he was with us, and I’ve seen a handful of rainbows since and they are always when I need them most. And I truly believe he’s in rainbows for me.”
The love story the two shared began in college. They both grew up in Durango, Colorado, and were 20 years old when they started dating.
Because Jeff was already a pilot, some of their first dates were in the air.
“Some of my fond memories of the early years were going up in the Cessna and taking a look at the Colorado colors. It was pretty great.”
Christina says she knew they were headed for a life in the military and what that meant. There was a lot of moving and time spent apart, but they made it work.
“I think for me, I just loved him so I didn’t care. I was just along for the ride just to be with him.”
Christina told News 2 she’s thankful she was able to share special moments with her husband— like the birth of their two children.
“I feel really lucky he was home for the birth of my babies. I just feel like that’s a blessing in this life. Something a lot of people don’t have and aren’t afforded. We felt like that was a treasure.”
As their family grew, Jeff’s career continued to take off. Every dream he had kept coming true. In 2014, he was able to live out another dream by joining the Blue Angels.
“I think [his] boss was jokingly telling him he didn’t make the team and hoped he try again next year. Then, welcome to the team! Jeff was just like, ‘What, sir?’ ‘You’re on the team!’ And I already knew, I could just tell from the look on his face we’re going to Pensacola. It was pretty exciting.”
Christina says her husband was the perfect kind of person to exemplify the message of the Blue Angels, and he loved flying the jet home to his wife and kids. They also shared precious moments during those times, like when he surprised his son on his 4th birthday by dressing in costume.
“As a father, he was extremely hands on. Hands and knees playing with the kids. Very tender, gentle, and loving. Lots of hugs and kisses and snuggles,” recalled Christina.
While losing her husband has been difficult, Christina says the support she received from strangers helped her tremendously.
“It has been profoundly humbling and incredible and has lifted me up, and I told you earlier Jeff was my inspiration and it was hard to lose that. And the people of Tennessee and of this country have wrapped us in so much love that I am inspired and grateful.”