In February of 1917, the intrepid pioneer pilots of the First Aero Squadron (FAS), stationed at Columbus for 11 months, were ordered back east to be transported to the raging inferno in Europe that became known as WWI.
Since that time, the Army Air Corps, later to be known as the Army Air Forces, fought and won our way through another World War, this time the second global conflict.
Shortly after WWII ended, in 1947, Congress formed the United States Air Force (USAF), an entirely new and independent branch of the U.S. Military, but it did not abandon the Army Aviation Branch.
When the USAF began to grow its ranks, the now much smaller Army Aviation Branch, likewise did not sit still but also began its own regrowth. Today, it has more pilots, almost entirely ROTARY WING, aviators, than does the USAF, although its inventory of Fixed Wing assets remains quite small.
Not since February 1917, 104 years ago, has the US Army flown into or out of their historic airfield in the small border town of Columbus, NM.
However, last month, on Tuesday, the 14th of December, that all changed, when the 501st General Support Aviation Battalion, stationed at Biggs Army Airfield (adjoining Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas), was led into the old Army FAS Airfield at Columbus by its commander, Lt. Colonel Jonathan Guinn.
Colonel Guinn personally flew the number 1 Boeing CH-47 Chinook twin-rotor helicopter into the Airfield, immediately followed by the 2nd Chinook. Upon landing, the heavy helicopters discharged some 60 young Army Aviators, who then walked from the Airfield into town, to explore their history in the two museums dedicated to the 1916 Punitive Expedition, which as most of you know, became to first instance of sustained combat flying by the fledging new Army flying squadron.
Here, below, you will see that historic event from last December unfold by way of videos of their arrival – – – and of their departure – – – along with many (78) photos of the Airmen and Women who took part in the event.
Click on the below photo’s centered boxed arrow to start the PowerPoint Show of the historic event, but remember, that, except for the opening and closing short videos, the other pictures will change to the next frame at regular intervals of 8 seconds per slide. Again, the entire show has 78 separate photos and two separate videos.
We suggest you use FULL-SCREEN for viewing since the photos are otherwise quite small.
Should you want to stop the show at any point, simply use your computer’s space bar, To restart the presentation, then tap the space bar once again. Remember, the two end piece videos are just under 2:00 minutes each. The entire show, if not paused, is only 14:16 long.
President Wes Bakerof the 555 Chapter of the EAA, at Las Cruces International Airport, arrives in his Vintage Cessna 140 for the meeting.
This past weekend, the RGAC (Rio Grande Aviation Council) held its Fall quarterly meeting at the WEAM (War Eagles Air Museum) at the Doña Ana County International Jetport in Santa Teresa, New Mexico.
In the words of one of the RGAC’s original two founders, Bob Dockendorf, “This newly formed organization is designed and purposed to improve and enhance communication between the many diverse groups that are involved in the regional aviation community.”
Thirteen (13) representatives of the some twenty odd member aviation industry concerned organizations attended. The two group photos below show those representatives who were able to attend this past Saturday.
All this post’s photos can be seen in hi-resolution and full size by simply clicking on them!
The RGAC’s governing member organizations include the following:
Amigo Air Sho
Cielo Dorado HO Association
Civil Air Patrol – Squadron 215 – El Paso
Civil Air Patrol – Squadron 24 – Las Cruces
Dust Devil Flying Club
EAA Chapter 1570 – Santa Teresa, NM
EAA Chapter 555 – Las Cruces, NM
El Paso Aviation Association
El Paso Remote Control Association
First Aero Squadron Foundation
Horizon City Remote Control Flyers
Las Cruces Aviators Flying Club
Mesilla Valley Model Airplane Club
Ninety-Nines – El Paso Chapter
Order of Daedalians – Flight 24 – El Paso
USAF Academy Association
USAF JROTC, Las Cruces HS, NM
USAF ROTC Det. 505, UTEP
USAF ROTC Detachment 505 NMSU
War Eagles Air Museum (WEAM)
L to R seated: Tania Privette, and WEAM Director and one of the RCAC founders, Bob Dockendorf, and EAA’s John Signorino work on meeting’s details.
Other profit-oriented or governmental organizations involved in local area aviation such as the Airfield Managers of KDNA (Dona Ana Jetport); LRU (Las Cruces International Airport); El Paso International Airport; Fabens Airport (Texas); The Commanders of Army Aviation’s Biggs Field and Holloman Air Force Base; Director of the UTEP Aero Apace Department; Managers of the Tenants at the New Mexico International Space Port and the Director of NMSU’s Physical Sciences Lab, along with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District . . . are engaged as members of the non-voting class of associate membership in the Council.
The actual governing of the Council is primarily determined by the non-profit educational aviation consumer oriented groups active in the region.
L to R front row: John Signoriino, Tania Privette,Ric Lambart– Back Row: Tracy Short, Aurora Navarro, Daniel Barcena, Mike LeGendre, Col. Mario Campos, Wes Baker, Eric Gensheimer, Todd Pasont, Bob Dockendorf, and Juan Brito.
Below, the group of representatives also gathered by the “Women in Aviation“ Display inside the WEAM main hangar (see below photo).
L to R: Ric Lambart, Aurora Navarro, Daniel Barcena, Tracy Short, Tania Privette, Mike LeGendre, John Signorino, Col. Mario Campos, Eric Gensheimer, Todd Pasont, Juan Brito, Wes Baker, and Bob Dockendorf – we don’t know the helmeted manikin’s name.
Organizational Meeting Title on Display Screens at WEAM
The brainchild of two local aviation leaders, Bob Dockendorfand John Keithly,The Rio Grande Aviation Council (RGAC) was put into motion this past weekend at the executive office meeting room of the War Eagles Air Museum (WEAM) at the Doña Ana County International Jetport.
Incidentally, the above photo is of the actual large LED Display screens that were mounted in the War Eagles’ meeting room, but the Rio Grande part was inadvertantly misspelled, leaving the “e” off at the end of Grande.
The two organizers recognized that there was no central or nexus organization through which the area’s many public-interest aviation groups and organizations might express both their legitimate public interests in their common industry, or to work more efficently to help collectively protect those same interests. In short, the new council would provide a more unified voice for the West Texas and SW New Mexico areas in respect to aviation related issues and interests.
Accordingly, Bob invited the area’s numerous public-interest and non-profit aviation groups to meet together at the WEAM. At least one or more representatives of each of the local (within a 100 mile radius of El Paso, Texas and Santa Teresa, NM) aviation groups appeared on Saturday, the 6th of April, to help organize this new organization.
Boband John recommended that the new organization be somewhat amporphous in nature and purposely not be formally structured, rather that it operate without any specific permanent officers or heirarchy. Its main functions would be to provide a sounding board, brain-storming platform, and a clearing house for the member organizations’ interests. It would, additionally, help provide a unified collective voice for the members’ common aviation interests.
The representatives of each group discussed their particular assets and current principal needs and goals.
Several other aviation groups were invited, but couldn’t make this intial organizational meeting, but will hopefully participate in future conferences. Such future gatherings will be held at the WEAM on a quarterly basis.
The following photos show some of those who attended as representatives of their respective aviation groups:
(Any of the below photos may be seen in full high-resolution by simply clicking on them)
Mrs. Mary Dockendorf registers John Adams of the EL Paso Composite Squadron 215 of the CAP.
President Wes Baker of the Las Cruces EAA Chapter 555 parks his Cessna 140 on the ramp in front of the WEAM.
L to R: Col. Mario Campos (Daedalian Society), Juan Brito (EPAA), Fritz Gatlin (EPRC Club), and Tom Holmsley(AMA)
L to R: Todd Parsont (Franklin HS JAFROTC), Ana Donahue (Drone Pilot for the Elephant ButteIrrigation District-EBID), Squadron Commander, Travis McKenzie and Col. Alan Fisher(CAP Squadron 24) line up to sign in for the meeting.
L to R: Ana Donahue (EBID), Todd Parsont (JAFROTC), Presidents Wes Baker (EAA 555) and John Keithly (EAA 1570), Col. Mario Campos (hidden behind) Juan Brito (EPAA).
L to R starting with those sitting with backs to the windows: Travis McKenzie and Mike LeGendre (CAP), Rick King(Santa Teresa Flying Club), Col. Alan Fisher(CAP), Malcolm White (USAFA), John Adams (CAP), Ana Donahue ((EBID), Todd Parsont (JAFROTC), Wes Baker and John Keithly (EAA Presidents), Col. Mario Campos(Daedalians), Juan Brito(EPAA), Fritz Gatlin (EPRC), Tom Holmsley(AMA), (three people with their backs to camera, and L to R) Elliott Werner (EAA), Bob Dockendorf(WEAM) and Didi Shaffer(Chair of the El Paso Chapter of the 99’s).
R to L clockwise: Rick King (Sta. Teresa Flying Club), Col. Alan Fisher (CAP), Malcolm White (USAFA), John Adams(CAP), Ana Donahue (EBID), Todd Parsont (JAFROTC), Wes Bakerand John Keithly(EAA), Mike McGee (UTEP), Col. Mario Campos(Daedalians), Mary Dockendorf (WEAM), Juan Brito (EPAA), and Fritz Gatlin (EPRC).
L to R: Ana Donahue (EBID), Todd Parsont (RAFROTC) and Wes Baker(EAA)
L to R:Todd Parsont(JAFROTC), Wes Bakerand John Keithly(EAA).
L to R clockwise: Ana Donahue (EBID), Todd Parsont (JAFROTC), Wes Baker (EAA), John Keithly(EAA), Mike McGee(UTEP), Col. Mario Campos (Daedalians), Juan Brito (EPAA), Fritz Gatlin (EPRC).
Clockwise R to L: (only part of his back to camera) Mike McGee (UTEP), Mario Campos(Daedalians), Juan Brito(EPAA), Fritz Gatlin(EPRC), Tom Holmsley (AMA), Tania Privette (LCA), Andy Hume(Las Cruces Int’l. Airport), Didi Shaffer (99’s), Bob Dockendorf (WEAM), Elliott Werner (EAA), Javier Caraveo (USAFA & AFROTC), Travis McKenzie and Mike LeGendre (CAP), and Rick King (Santa Teresa Flying Club).
L to R: John Keithly (EAA 1570), Dr. Mike McGee (UTEP), Col. Mario Campos (Daedalians), and Juan Brito(EPAA).
L to R: Andy Hume (Las Cruces Int’l. Airport), Tania Privette (LCA), and Didi Shaffer (99’s).
Didi Schaffer(Chair of El Paso Chapter of the Ninety-Nines).
Meeting Chairman, Bob Dockendorf, principal organizer of the Rio Grand Aviation Council
RGAC Organizational Meeting Representatives – L to R: John Keithly, Ric Lambart, Travis McKenzie, Mario Campos, AlanFisher, Mike LeGendre, Mike McGee, Rick King, Elliott Werner, Tania Privette, Andy Hume, Didi Shaffer, Ammber Valverde, Ana Donahue, Javier Cavaveo, Juan Brito, Wes Baker, Todd Parsont, Tom Holmsley, Fritz Gatlin, John Adams, Malcolm White, and Bob Dockendorf.
Today, only three days to go before retiring as Manager of New Mexico’sPancho Villa State Park (PVSP) in Columbus, one of the FASF’s earliest and most active members and enthusiastic supporters, John Read (at left), was honored at a surprise celebration, held at his beloved Park in Columbus, the very spot which once housed U.S. Army troops under General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing, during the famous Punitive Expedition of 1916 and 1917. High resolution still photographs and video follow story down below . . .
Camp Furlong 1916-17 Recreation Hall
Today’s celebratory event was actually held in the very same “Recreation Hall” (at right) in which U.S. Army infantry, cavalry, and Signal Corps Aviation troops held their various recreational activities over a century ago. The Army Fort and Garrison at Columbus became known as “Camp Furlong.”
Since arriving in Columbus, Mr. Read has maintained a continuous presence in all FASF activities, often helping the Foundation put on various presentations for the general public, and acting as one of its principle historical consultants.
General “Black Jack” Pershing
He supported and even hosted the very first public event put on by the FASF, when the United States Air Force (USAF) flew its then Deputy Historian, Dr. Roger Miller, out to Columbus to put on the group’s very first public History sell-out extravaganza.
It was New Mexico’s interesting employment opportunities and the excitement of the Southwest that initially drew the Readsfrom their home in Tampa, Florida to New Mexico. WhenJohnarrived at Columbus, in 2008, his first task was to become the Park’s new Heritage Educator. Prior to his arrival in Columbus, John first worked as a Park Ranger at the Roswell NM State park.
Although Read’s major during college was in the Sciences, and notwithstanding his years of teaching science in Florida, he nevertheless became a dedicated student of history, in particular the history of those events which surrounded Columbus during those years just prior to our entry into the “War to End All Wars,” better known today as WWI, in Europe.
Aside from his heavy workload at managing the New Mexico PVSP operation, John has still continued his love of Science, foraging into advanced theoretical physics concepts, such as Quantum Mechanics and String Theory, and he has also become in income producing YouTube presenter of New Mexico High Desert Exploration and Aventure Videos.
It was during that Punitive Expedition that the United States first engaged its fledgling, and as yet unproven Army First Aero Squadron, in sustained combat. And, of course, it was this very history-making development in Columbus, over a century ago, that led to the small Mexican border town’s becoming the “Birthplace of American Air Power,” and the “Rebirth Site of American Civil aviation,“ as well.
However, it was not just this history that captured Mr. Read’s interest, but the entire series of related historic events that arose out the Columbus engagement in that historic Punitive Expedition.
Let’s take a quick glance of some of John’smore notable contributions, which so greatly enhanced the PVSP’s status as a historical site and local landmark for visitors and history buffs:
He created 1st website for the Pancho Villa State Park Friends (Volunteer Docent) group
Expanded and helped re-organize for more effectiveness, the PVSP Friend’s Group
Obtained large donation of new historic Expedition Artifacts for display in the exhibit Hall
Got donations of numerous original 13th Cavalry Army Uniforms from the Expedition
Acquired large collection of impressively mounted new Photo Plaques re the Raid
Promoted + sold many FASF souvenirs to park visitors, to help PVSP Friends’ funding
Created and marketed numerous other Expedition and “Raid” gifts for tourists
Got for display a valuable US 48 star Flag used by the expedition in Mexico in 1917-17
Acquired from Pancho’s grandson (Mex. Atty) for display, aluminum death mask of Villa
Put on display an actual artillery shell found in Mexico from the Expedition’s action there
Got donation of Bill Rakocycollection (SW Historian/Artist & Writer) exhibit for display
Sold numerous new donors to make exhibit donations to the Park for its prized collection
Coordinated historical education “Staff Rides” (Field Trips) for USA Sgt. Majors Academy
Regularly coordinated USA Sergeant Majors Academy “Staff Rides” (Field Trips) thru PVSP
Did research: why PVSP was named after the Mexican Revolutionary who raided the US*
Greatly expanded the Park’s fostering and promoting of large Antique Car Show each year
Managed and orchestrated huge “Raid Centenniall” extravaganza in 2016, which featured:
A large group of 13th Cavalry Reenactors from all across the United States
Had Congressman/FASF member, Steve Pearce present US Capitol Flag to the FASF
Arranged Special FASF Presentation to the overflow crowd of Centennial visitors
Otherwise coordinated hundreds of enactors and others for successful Centennia
Here, for your enjoyment, are some of today’s photos . . . click to see full high-resolution view
Some of guests line up to get their event lunch
Guests begin to assemble in the Camp Furlong Recreation Hall to hear John’sretirement ceremony
L to R in foreground: Park volunteers, Dave and Marlene Ferguson, Josephine Gosiak, Shirley and Steve Schou, and with their backs to cameral, PVSP Friends’ VIPs, Jeane and Bud Canfield
L to R facing camera and standing: FASF Aerodrome Editor, July McClure, John Read, and seated, Maria Rangel, FASF member, Ted Williams(turned toward John and a park volunteer) and Bud Canfield, long time FASF Advisor.
L to R: July McClure, John Read, Maria Rangel, Ted Williams, Bud and Jeane Canfield.
L to R above: Guest of honor,John Read and his wife, Elly Read.
New Mexico State Park employees and staff, along with guests, listen to event MC and Park Regional Manager, Evaristo Giron, as he descried John Read’snumerous achievements during his tenure as the PVSP manager.
John and Elly Readlisten to Mr. Evaristo’s praise of John’s many accomplishments as Park Manager.
L to R: Evaristo Girontells crowd of some more of John’s achievements as Johnwaves one of his thank you cards with its many grateful anc congratulatory signatures.
FASF ALL!– – – and also PVSP Friends’ Group Officers: July McClure (Treasurer), Elly and John Read, Maria Rangel(Secretary), Todd Montes (President – & US Postmaster for Columbus), Bud and Jeane Canfield, early PVSP Friends’ Group officers and organizers.
Guest of honor, John Read, with his principal long-time support staff Park Rangers:, L to R:Junior Martinez and Martin Nunez.
John Read with long-time friend and one of FASF organizers and its Webmaster, Ric Lambart
A happy new retiree and his bride about to savor their hard earned new life without so much daily responsibilities.
John Read’s New Mexico State Park’s Recognition for Outstanding Service Commemorative Plaque.
CLICK HERE to see John Read’streatise on the strange story behind park’s Pancho Villaname.