Columbus, NM: June 27, 2013
HISTORY MADE BY AIR FORCE COMMANDER
FAS CO, Chi Chi Rodriguez, meets FASF Team & Sees Columbus
If your cursor turns to a hand over any photo below, click it for full-sized viewing Photo credits: Donna, Daniel, Chris & Chi Chi Rodriguez and Len Zgonina
Not since 1917 has a commander of the First Aero Squadron visited the town of Columbus, but yesterday, Lt. Colonel Steven “Chi Chi” Rodriguez, who just left Beale AFB, near Sacramento, CA., stopped over on his way to his new East Coast assignment. The Colonel was there to visit with fellow members of the First Aero Squadron Foundation (FASF), all precisely where his own active duty First Aero Squadron unit saw its first combat – – – starting operations in March of 1916.
Colonel Rodriguez just relinquished command of the FAS at Beale, where his mission was amazingly almost identical to that of the flying squadron that saw its first action here in Columbus 97 years ago. The present FAS stationed at Beale trains Air Force pilots and crews to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance, those very same military intelligence tasks undertaken out of Columbus in 1916 to assist General “Blackjack” Pershing in his pursuit of Mexican General Pancho Villa.
Also flying their own plane in from Las Cruces for the festive and historical occasion were Lt. Colonel (USAF Retired), Alan Fisher, now a Pecan Grower in the Mesilla Valley, and Captain Brooks Hindes, Commander of the Las Cruces Civil Air Patrol Squadron. The Civil Air Patrol is an auxiliary of the USAF and the Las Cruces Squadron of the CAP is an active participant in the FASF historical mission. Both Colonel Fisher and Captain Hindes are active FASF members.
Richard Dean (and his wife, Betty), founder of the Columbus Historical Society, entertained Colonel Chi Chi and his family at the Dean home, while John Read, Chief Park Ranger and Heritage Director of the Pancho Villa State Park (PVSP) in Columbus, accompanied by his wife, Elle, gave the entire Rodriquez family a personal tour of the park’s Exhibit Hall, where the Colonel studied many of the artifacts and other memorabilia left over from Punitive Expedition back in 1916 and 1917, including the full sized Jenny replica hanging in the Exhibit Hall, the plane in which his earliest predecessors flew those Punitive Expedition missions into Mexico.
In marked contrast to that ancient Jenny biplane, two weeks ago, Colonel Rodriguez piloted his last formal flight in the famous U-2 Spy plane (see photos), an aircraft which flies more than 70,000 feet higher than did whose old “Jenny” biplanes of yesteryear. Because modern day U-2 pilots ascend to the lower reaches of space, they must fly encapsulated in regular astronaut space suits, just as do today’s NASA space crews. In photos below are Chris, Daniel, Donna, and Colonel Rodriguez. Before the flight (immediately below), seen in his helmet inside the cockpit, is Chi Chi with his family, on the loading scaffold. Next below, is Chi Chi, landing after his last U-2 flight, and, later, in his space suit with his family.
After touring the Park’s Exhibit Hall (below), Columbus Judge Javier Lozano gave Colonel Rodriguez a private tour of the Columbus Historical Society’s Punitive Expedition Museum. Just before his exploration of the Columbus Raid exhibits at the Historical Society’s Museum, a celebratory luncheon was held in the Colonel’s honor.Heritage Director and FASF member, John Read, at PVSP, describing the 1916 raid on Columbus to Ric Lambart and Chi Chi. Photo above and those below all by FASF member, Len Zgonina
Colonel Rodriguez, an active member of the FASF, had his first opportunity to meet some of the organization’s Trustee leadership, including Bill Wehner, President; Gene Valdes, Immediate Past President; and Trustees Bud Canfield, Scott Schmid (of Deming, NM), and former Mayor of Columbus and current Treasurer of the FASF, Martha Skinner. Also attending the festivities from Deming was Dr. Kathleen Martin, an active FASF member. All during the events depicted, Colonel Rodriguez was accompanied by his wife, Donna, and his two young sons, Daniel and Chris.
The Colonel and his family are looking forward to returning to Columbus in 2016 for the planned centennial celebration of the Columbus raid by Mexican General Pancho Villa’s troops, the incident which caused Columbus to become known as “The Birthplace of American Air Power,” and also, “The Cradle of American Air Power” (see painting on Home Page).
Below is the VIP Rodriguez family at the celebratory lunch with FASF members and their spouses. Immediately below, L to R, are Chi Chi, Jeanne & Bud Canfield, Scott Schmid, Bill Wehner, Mary McClain, and Gene Valdes. The event was held at the Patio Cafe in Columbus.
To the Left are: Col. Alan Fisher, USAF Ret., Donna Rodriguez, and CAP Captain Brooks HindesAbove, Colonel Rodriguez stands on the FASF Aerodrome, just where his predecessors, some 97 years ago, undertook their first combat missions, thereby helping bring about the naming of Columbus as the “Cradle of American Air Power.” The newly graded airstrip under Chi Chi’s feet was recently re-dedicated and opened for air traffic by FASF President, Bill Wehner, one of the Foundation’s initial organizers, driving forces and a founding trustee.