Does patriotism really fly at military-themed air shows?

HOUSTON – Talk to anyone at an air show and you will quickly realize how riveting the experience can be. "Like you can feel it on the ground,” as one woman who attended an air show in Fort Worth recently put it.

While there is plenty of velocity and storytelling, it all plays out under the theme of patriotism.

The premier attraction at most air shows are the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds or U.S. Navy Blue Angels.

Symbolic for thousands as they represent the spirit of our nation or as the wife of one veteran put it: "It's called freedom. It's called what we are here for. It's called being an American."

At a time when President Donald Trump is calling on a return of jobs in the USA, Channel 2 Investigates found extensive outsourcing of patriotism in apparel and hats at air shows in Fort Worth and at Ellington Field in Houston.

The vendors allowed to sell merchandise through licensing agreements with the U.S. Navy and Air Force. The foreign influence was everywhere with products made in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti. When we asked Vietnam War vet Jim Sanders where one of the products he was holding was made, he quickly said, "China. And not China, Texas, I presume.”

It did not sit with him well. In fact he described how he felt in two words, “It's pitiful."

While vendors says it is because the price point is too high domestically, Mark Andol, owner of Made in America Stores in New York state, disagrees, "No, I don't believe it, it's just not true."

Since 2010, Andol's company has manufactured T-shirts made in the USA, with over $500,000 in sales projected for the second straight year.

Andol says shirts that sell for under $20 on his site can be produced and sold for the same price Channel 2 Investigates found at the air shows --- if not less, "We can do that with a Made in America, USA T-shirt."

Navy licensing as well as other military branches do not permit vendors to sell products with "goods" listed by the Department of Labor as made by child or forced labor. Channel 2 Investigates uncovered one vendor selling Blue Angels hoodies made in Pakistan, with Pakistani cotton. That cotton is classified by the DOL as a "good" produced through forced labor, which means the hoodies should have never landed at an air show.

"That's probably the problem. It's just not enforced,” Houston-area U.S. Rep. Gene Green said after recently examining some of the merchandise we purchased. Green, who is a member of the House Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection, added, "Somebody who served our country in whatever service would probably prefer their shirts that they wear or their hats that they wear, to be made in this country by people who are in this country."

For more on the American Made movement, click on the link to one of the companies we spoke to during our investigation, the Oscar Mike Foundation.

The U.S. Navy on Friday afternoon responded to Channel 2 Investigates regarding vendors selling non-compliant merchandise stating in an email, “If the vendor was licensed we rely on the information they provide our office as true and accurate. If the licensee did not disclose their manufacturer, they would be in breach of the license agreement, which could result in termination.”

The Navy also added they offer a “lower royalty rate for Made in the USA products.”


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