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Retired Col. Rodriguez brings passion to SUPT Class 18-08 graduation

Retired Col. Cesar Rodriguez, a former F-15 Eagle pilot, speaks at the Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 18-08 graduation April 27, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Rodriguez spoke about the importance of family, friends and teamwork for every Airmen and leader in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

Retired Col. Cesar Rodriguez, a former F-15 Eagle pilot, speaks at the Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 18-08 graduation April 27, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Rodriguez spoke about the importance of family, friends and teamwork for every Airmen and leader in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

Retired Col. Cesar Rodriguez, a former F-15 Eagle pilot, greets a student pilot April 27, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, before speaking at the Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 18-08 graduation. Rodriguez served 25 years in the U.S. Air Force, recorded more than 3,100 fighter flight hours, 350 of which were combat hours during Desert Storm and Allied Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

Retired Col. Cesar Rodriguez, a former F-15 Eagle pilot, greets a student pilot April 27, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, before speaking at the Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 18-08 graduation. Rodriguez served 25 years in the U.S. Air Force, recorded more than 3,100 fighter flight hours, 350 of which were combat hours during Desert Storm and Allied Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Retired Col. Cesar Rodriguez, a former F-15 Eagle pilot, spoke to Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 18-08 during their graduation April 27, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.

He thanked everyone in the crowd for supporting this newest class of graduates as they progress into the next stage of their military aviation careers and acknowledged his thanks especially to parents who were able to support their sons and daughters in a way nobody else can.

“In my short time here, I can see that the vision on each corner of the base, to be the premier training wing and partner with the community to develop the world’s best Airmen, is alive and well,” began Rodriguez.

He took time to acknowledge the effort it takes for the Air Force to create a world class pilot and leader and explained how the graduating students are now a part of something larger than any one person.

“Our Air Force is a lethal and responsive team, you are now going to be an air power component,” he said. “Your training and execution will showcase flexibility and responsiveness that is at the disposal of each combatant commander anywhere around the world. You will spend countless hours in your vaults and in the training areas, preparing to join the most technically advanced team, supporting real world operations. From fifth generation platforms to fighter, bomber, special operations, command and control, mission support, you are all one piece of the total force team.”

The mission seems large, but students throughout pilot training are tested and prepared for their future roles as leaders and aviators alike.

“You are all ready to start on this journey of preparation and excellence and you will not be alone,” Rodriguez said.

He then began explaining in detail a mission in which he took down three enemy fighter aircraft and his thoughts before, during and afterward.

The team of Air Force aircraft worked their way to their target, an underground ammunitions bunker, and as they flew toward its location, enemy aircraft had been identified on their radar systems to the Northeast and Northwest of the pilots.

His team focused their efforts on the Northeastern aircraft because it was the largest threat to the strike package. Unbeknownst to Rodriguez and his team, the Northwest aircraft maneuvered into a favorable attack position.

“Immediately, I maneuvered my formation to find the threat and quickly found them exactly eight miles off my nose,” Rodriguez said. “The next few seconds had my attention focused on identifying the contacts as friendly or foe. Too late to employ the shot, I identified the threat as a MiG-29 Fulcrum.”

His wingman confirmed it was an enemy and proceeded to make a defensive maneuver as his F-15 Eagle alerted him he was in the enemy’s strike zone and had been locked onto by its weapon systems.

“When my wingman called Fox 1, I quickly looked over my left shoulder and saw the smoke trail of his missile leading toward the MiG’s last known position,” Rodriguez continued.

He maneuvered roughly 1,000 feet above the Iraq desert floor and while looking in the distance above his right wing, he saw the a U.S. AIM-7 Sparrow impact the enemy aircraft.

“This day was not over as the airborne early warning controller called out again ‘Second MiG inbound from the North,’” Rodriguez recalled.

The incoming MiG’s indecision in the moment and lack of confirmation of its identity for Rodriguez and his team, led Rodriguez to fly past the wing of the enemy to confirm it was a hostile aircraft.

He continued to maneuver his position so he could attempt to employ his weapon systems and neutralize the threat.

“For the next 20 or so seconds as we descended from 8,000 feet to the desert floor at ranges from 500 knots and nine G force’s, the enemy fighter pilot and I continued to perform a variety of basic fighting maneuvers for one of us to achieve a position advantage,” Rodriguez said. “In the end, it was my training and advanced technology that allowed me to achieve the position of advantage leaving the MiG no other choice but to attempt a last ditch maneuver and ultimately resulted in him impacting the desert floor.”

He looked back at the mission with the students and said if the entire team didn’t work together to take out the enemy, it might have been a lot different of an outcome. Everyone working together had touched each aspect of the dogfight in a different way and allowed the Air Force and its coalition forces to return home safely another day.

He then spoke of three lessons he wanted to leave with the graduating class; showing the importance of Airmen in any careerfields no matter their role within the mission, the necessity of being the best you can be to contribute to the team effort and the significance of family or friends to hold Airmen up and hold them accountable as they progress through life.

“My wife, Trish, was and continues to be the stronger member of our family - Team Rodriguez,” he said. “Your training and operations tempo will challenge you to find and keep a positive balance with your family, this is not unique to officers, as it will happen to all those who wear the uniform.”

He reminded the students it will soon be their time to help those they lead and work beside throughout rigorous times. Rodriguez said as officers, they must recognize and put effort into keeping the families they work with in good condition, as well as their own.

“Family is like your heart, it pumps 24/7, 365 days a year, you don’t get to turn it off,” he said. “Every day your family will grow and it will be up to you class 18-08 to be leaders of success at home, in our communities and in our Air Force.”

He left them with a final congratulations, stating his pride for the newest pilots from 18-08.