Cesar Rodriguez (United States Air Force pilot)
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|Cesar Antonio Rodriguez|
March 22, 1959|
El Paso, Texas
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/||United States Air Force|
|Years of service||1981-2006 |
Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm)|
Air engagements of the Gulf War
1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia
Distinguished Flying Cross|
Legion of Merit
Cesar Antonio "Rico" Rodriguez was a United States Air Force officer and pilot from 1981 to 2006. With his three air-to-air combat victories, he joined Thomas Dietz, Robert Hehemann, and Robert Wright (all USAF officers) as the closest to becoming an air ace than any American pilot since the Vietnam War. Rodriguez scored his first two kills in 1991, during the first Gulf War, against a Mikoyan MiG-29 and a Mikoyan MiG-23 of the Iraqi Air Force. His third kill came against a MiG-29 of the Yugoslavian Air Force during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.
Early life and career
Rodriguez was born in 1959 at El Paso, Texas; son of a career U.S. Army NCO he lived on various military bases and graduated from Antilles High School at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico in 1977. He received a degree in Business Administration from The Citadel in 1981 and was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, after attending Undergraduate Pilot Training he was awarded pilot wings in November, 1982. His first operational assignment was flying the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II at Suwon Air Base, South Korea; in 1985 he was selected to attend the Instructor Pilot Course at Randolph AFB, Texas then spent the following 3 years as an AT-38 Instructor Pilot at Holloman AFB, New Mexico; in 1988 he transitioned to the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and was assigned to the 33d Tactical Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida. Rodriguez flew missions in support of the invasion of Panama in 1989 and following service in Operation Desert Storm served on the staff of 9th Air Force at Shaw AFB, South Carolina then attended Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama. Beginning in 1995 he was Chief of Force Requirements and Executive Officer to the Commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe at Ramstein Air Base, Germany then returned to operational flying as a pilot and Chief of Safety with the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, UK; he next served as Assistant Chief of Safety at Air Combat Command Headquarters in Virginia and then attended the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. In 2002 he was assigned as Deputy Commander of the 366th Operations Group at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho and also deployed to Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom serving as Operations Group Commander for the 332d Air Expeditionary Wing, the largest flying unit in Central Command. His final assignment was as Commander of the 355th Mission Support Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona; he retired in November, 2006. His numerous awards include the Legion of Merit, 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Air Medal with 11 Oak Leaf Clusters.
Rodriguez, call sign "Rico" scored the first two air-air direct hits of his Air Force career in the Gulf War. His first hit occurred when he and his wingman Craig "Mole" Underhill came across two Iraqi MiG-29 "Fulcrums". The two F-15s quickly locked up the MiG-29s, which turned east to avoid them. However, an AWACS then reported two more MiG-29s coming in fast at them from the west a mere 13 miles away. The two F-15s and two MiG-29s charged straight at each other. Underhill quickly fired an AIM-7 at the first MiG. At the same time, the second MiG-29, piloted by Captain Jameel Sayhood, "locked up" Rodriguez, who then quickly executed a dive down to the deck to avoid the radar lock and nearly collided with the AIM-7 Sparrow fired by Rodriguez's wingman which, seconds later, destroyed the lead MiG. After seeing his wingman killed, Sayhood decided to bug out briefly. Rodriguez rejoined with Underhill until Sayhood reappeared. Underhill locked him up, though his computer would not let him fire the AIM-7 missile to destroy the MiG because of a glitch in his IFF which told him that the MiG was a friendly aircraft. Rodriguez and Sayhood then proceeded to merge, whereupon they both turned left and promptly got into a turning fight. As they descended towards the ground, Sayhood attempted to execute a Split S maneuver. However, having insufficient altitude (about 600 feet) he crashed into the ground. Rodriguez was credited with a maneuvering kill. Later while flying back to his base, Rodriguez was repeatedly locked on by patrolling friendly Royal Saudi Air Force F-15s. After several warnings, Rodriguez threatened to shoot the aircraft down if they locked onto him one more time.
His second kill came as he was flying in formation with three other pilots, Captain Rory Draeger with his wingman Captain Tony "Kimo" Schiavi, and Rodriguez with his wingman Captain Bruce Till. An AWACS picked up four Iraqi MiG-23s taking off from the airfield designated H2. The four F-15s turned ninety degrees, and spread out over a space of ten miles to maximize their radar and missile coverage. One of the four MiGs bugged out with mechanical problems. Draeger assigned the targets, he will take the lead MiG, while Schiavi takes the northern one, while Rodriguez was assigned the southern MiG. The three of them locked up the MiGs and all fired AIM-7 radar guided missiles at the MiGs. All three were destroyed within seconds of each other to for a "textbook" beyond visual range dogfight. The moment of the missiles impact in the MiG-23 was caught in the cockpit camera of that MiG, which was later recovered by a special forces team.
During Operation Allied Force in the Balkans Rodriguez was deployed for the campaign against the Serbs. On the first night of the campaign, March 24, 1999, several Serbian MiG-29s rose up to resist the air attacks. Two MiGs took off on the opening night from Nis Air Force Base. The first was damaged from a missile strike from a Dutch General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter, whilst the second flown by Serbian Major Ilijo Arizanov was engaged and shot down by an F-15 Eagle piloted by Rodriguez. The MiG-29s of the Serbian Air Force were very old and suffering severe problems with their systems. Major Ilijo was having trouble getting his radar working when he was shot down by Rodriguez. This would be Rodriguez's final kill, making him the leading MiG killer since the Vietnam War and tying him with two other USAF pilots for the most aerial victories since Vietnam.
During his lengthy career, Rodriguez earned many decorations, including:Command pilot badge
|Legion of Merit|
|Distinguished Flying Cross with "V" device and two bronze oak leaf clusters|
|Defense Meritorious Service Medal|
|Meritorious Service Medal with four bronze oak leaf clusters|
|Air Medal with silver and bronze oak leaf clusters|
|Aerial Achievement Medal|
|Air Force Commendation Medal with bronze oak leaf cluster|
|Air Force Achievement Medal|
|Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with "V" device and three bronze oak leaf clusters|
|Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (second ribbon required for accouterment spacing)|
|Combat Readiness Medal with two bronze oak leaf clusters|
|National Defense Service Medal with one bronze Service star|
|Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal|
|Southwest Asia Service Medal with three bronze campaign stars|
|Kosovo Campaign Medal|
|Iraq Campaign Medal|
|Global War on Terrorism Service Medal|
|Korea Defense Service Medal|
|Air Force Overseas Short Tour Service Ribbon with bronze oak leaf cluster|
|Air Force Overseas Long Tour Service Ribbon|
|Air Force Longevity Service Award with silver oak leaf cluster|
NATO Medal (Yugoslavia)
NATO Medal (Kosovo)
After his combat service, Rodriguez continued to serve with the US Air Force until November 30, 2006 when he retired with the rank of Colonel. He currently resides in Tucson, Arizona and works for Raytheon Missile Systems.
Aerial victory credits
|Date||Type||Location||Aircraft flown||Unit Assigned|
|January 19, 1991||MiG-29||Iraq||F-15C||33 TFW, 58 TFS|
|January 26, 1991||MiG-23||Iraq||F-15C||33 TFW, 58 TFS|
|March 24, 1999||MiG-29||Serbia||F-15C||48 FW, 493 FS|
- "Cesar A. Rodriguez, Jr". veterantributes.org. Archived from the original on 13 August 2010. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
- Bowden, Mark (March 2009). "The Last Ace". The Atlantic. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
- Dogfights of Desert Storm History Channel. accessed 11 September 2010
- Steve, Davies (1 January 2005). F-15C Eagle Units in Combat. Osprey Publishing. p. 57. ISBN 978-1841767307.