Cesar A. “Rico” Rodriguez Jr. was born on 22 March 1959 in El Paso, Texas. The son of a career Army officer, Rodriguez wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and enrolled in The Citadel as a means to play sports and become an Army officer. An epiphany his sophomore year, fueled by a bet with his college roommate, prompted Rodriguez to switch gears and take the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test. He engaged classmates constantly about airplanes and the fine art of flying. In 1981, Rodriguez graduated with a Business Administration Degree and was commissioned in the United States Air Force as a second lieutenant. He completed Undergraduate Pilot Training and earned his wings in November 1982. He has flown the T-37, T-38, AT-38, A-10, and F-15. Rodriguez has served as a Plans Officer for NATO Partnership for Peace, Ramstein AB, Germany; Executive Officer to the USAFE Commander, Ramstein AB, Germany; Chief of Safety for the 48th Fighter Wing, RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom; Deputy Chief of Flight Safety for HQ ACC, Langley, Virginia; Deputy Commander for the 366th Operations Group, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho; and Commander for the 355th Mission Support Group, Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. He is a graduate of Air Command and Staff College, the Contingency Wartime Planning Course at Armed Forces Staff College, and US Naval War College. Rodriguez is a command pilot with more than 3,100 fighter flight hours, 350 of which are in combat Operations Desert Storm and Allied Force. Additionally, he has distinguished himself in aerial combat where he is credited with downing three enemy fighter aircraft. While flying missions in support of Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-1991, he was credited with downing an Iraqi MiG-29 during a heart pounding close-range dogfight, and an Iraqi MiG-23 in a “more routine” beyond line of sight engagement in a “wall of eagles” formation. On 24 March 1999, the first night of Operation Allied Force, Rodriguez scored his third kill when a Yugoslavian MiG-29 attempted to disrupt the coalition strike package tasked to attack a Serbian SAM site in Montenegro. Rodriguez has flown missions in support of the invasion of Panama in December 1989 and commanded the 332d Expeditionary Operations Group at Al Jaber AB, Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Among other distinctions, he has been awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star. His aerial combat experiences have been documented by the History Channel as part of its popular “Dogfights” series. Furthermore, Rodriguez was featured in The Atlantic Magazine in March 2009, where he was given the nickname “The Last Ace.” He and his wife Trish currently live in Tucson, Arizona and have two children, Amanda, a sophomore at the United States Air Force Academy, and Cesar III, a freshman at the University of Arizona. Rodriguez retired from the Air Force on 1 December 2006, and is currently employed by Raytheon as the Director for International Programs for the Air Warfare Systems product line..
Years Honored: 2011
Aircraft/Specialty: F-15C Eagle
Colonel Cesar "Rico" Rodriguez is part of a small group of modern airmen who have engaged enemy aircraft in classic dogfight style. Advancements in technology push modern air battles beyond visual range and steer tactics into a world of dueling electrons. Rodriguez has experienced the fear and vulnerability of being in a MiG radar lock. He has engaged enemy aircraft in battle, and is credited with three air-to-air MiG kills, the most any US military aviator has achieved since the Vietnam War.