Air Force Rescue Helicopter Pays a Visit to UNM during Welcome Back Days

September 7, 2011 - Dorene DiNaro


helicopter landingAn HH-60 rescue helicopter with close ties to the University of New Mexico paid a special visit to UNM last month during Welcome Back Days.  Air Force captain, Tamara Archuleta graduated summa cum laude from the UNM AFROTC in 1999, and became the detachment’s first female cadet to earn her pilot wings.  Part of Archuleta’s career included returning to Albuquerque for flight training in the very same unit that landed the HH-60 on Johnson Field. 

On a normal day, it is not unusual for the rescue helicopter, which is part of the 58th Special Operations Wing, to fly over UNM’s campus.  Having it actually land on Johnson Field, however, took some doing on the part of AFROTC Commander Lt. Col. Raul V. Garcia.  “I coordinated with 21 different UNM offices including the Army ROTC, over four months to obtain approval for the landing,” he says. “I also had to get permission from the Pentagon.”

Garcia, who teaches the senior-level Air Force ROTC course used the helicopter as a makeshift classroom. The students had the chance to explore the helicopter while talking with the pilots about their real life experiences as part of the Air Force. “It’s amazing to talk to the crew and find out how exciting the Air Force rescue mission really is,” AFROTC Cadet Kyle Duran said.

“When people think about the Air Force they think about the fast fighter jet,” said AFROTC Cadet Kenze Showers. “Rescue helicopters are something totally different and cool.”

The helicopter’s crew which is stationed at Kirtland Air Force base was recently credited with saving the life of a hiker in southern Colorado.  Unfortunately, Archuleta died while on a mission during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan when her HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter hit the side of a mountain. 

After all the hard work was done and the visit was over, Garcia says the visit accomplished what he wanted it to.  “Today, seeing the students crawling all over the helicopter like ants makes it all worth it,” Garcia says.