The sergeant explains to his men: "It takes off like a Harrier jet, lands like a paratrooper, weighs less than an M-16 rifle, but six of you can barely lift it. Marines, meet Chesty, the Leatherneck balloon!"
The Chesty balloon puts the Corps into the air at festivals across the U.S. and Europe, where crowds get a taste of Marine spit & polish along with the sight of the airborne Marine mascot.
Chesty wasn’t originally scheduled to appear at the June ‘96 Boise River Festival, but Marine Gunnery Sergeant Mike Dever figured it would be great for Idaho recruiting efforts. Kim Adamson, 20-year hot-air ballooning enthusiast and (ahem!) a Marine warrant officer assigned to 12th Marine Corps District in Salt Lake City built the balloon to promote the Marine Corps, so after a few phone calls, the balloon was on its way to Idaho.
The Chesty balloon was designed from photographs of the Marine Corps bulldog, copies of cartoons and drawings, and even snapshots of tattoos from a few Leathernecks. Don Cameron built the balloon in Bristol, England, a snarling Marine Corps bulldog over eight stories high from his spiked collar to his Drill Instructor’s hat. Marines gloat that Chesty is a special shape, unlike most "civilian" balloons (and those flown by the Navy, the Army, and the National Guard).
Upon arrival at Boise’s Ann Morrison Park, the Chesty crew created a stir how often do you see U.S. Marines unfolding a 90,000 cubic foot balloon? Pilot Rick Geyerman directed a Leatherneck ground crew of off-duty recruiters and new recruits who added the spectacle of a uniformed crew (each dressed in the official T-shirt, camouflage utility trousers, and "boots, black, highly polished"). The Chesty chase vehicle was a Hummer, the familiar Jeep of Desert Storm.
The Boise River Festival has become a major event in the West. This year some 50 balloons took part in the morning flights. The balloons flew on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and valley winds provided all residents with a chance to watch.
On Friday, the balloons all floated to the south. On Saturday, a generally windless day, the mass of balloons gently circled Ann Morrison Park, and most returned to land almost where they took off. On Sunday, the winds blew the balloons to the north, passing over the largest part of the city.
Officials estimated Boise River Festival visitors at a million, and nearly 200,000 turned out for the early morning balloon launches and the evening Glow show. Chesty flew in a cloud of balloons, alongside other special shapes like the Korbel champagne bottle, the Disney Mickey Mouse, the Planter’s Mr. Peanut, and the United Van Lines moving van.
There’s something about a Marine, even if he’s made out of nylon.
Left: Marine GySgt. Mike Dever and daughter Kristi watch Chesty
from the Hummer chase vehicle.
Right: Balloons lift off from Ann Morrison Park during the Boise River Festival.