Co-op Hometown Hero Takes Flight as ThunderbirdBy Victoria A. Rocha | ECT Staff Writer Published: June 23rd, 2014
You could say that the recognition Ronnie Marez got for performing a simple act of kindness took him to new heights.
Nominated by a co-worker at Farmers Electric Cooperative, Marez was selected by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds as a “hometown hero” for an honor flight in a F-16 C Fighting Falcon. Marez took his flight at an air show at Cannon Air Force Base, outside Clovis, N.M.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t dream about it,” Marez said of the hour-long flight on the aircraft that topped speeds of 500 miles per hour and required him to don a G-suit.
Earlier this year, Marez rescued a 92-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease from 30-degree weather when he found her lying on the side of a highway near Fort Sumner.
“I cover a lot of territory on the job, and I’m always seeing people on the side of the road with flat tires. I’ll help them out and change their tires. That’s just me. I like to help people,” said Marez, a meter reader at the Clovis-based co-op.
On this cold January morning, however, it was a different situation. “I thought it was a homeless person. I rolled down my window and yelled, ‘Are you OK?’ The person raised [her] hand and said, ‘No, I’m not.’”
Marez pulled over and got out of his truck to investigate. “She was wearing only a sweatshirt and sweat pants and she was lying in a bunch of [burrs and thorns], with no shoes.”
After removing the burrs off her body and recovering her shoes, Marez put the woman in his truck and drove her to the co-op’s Fort Sumner office, where she was reunited with her family.
“The nature of Ronnie’s job has him traveling long stretches of lonely highway, and this isn’t the first time he’s stopped to help someone in need,” said Thom Moore, director of member services.
Several members have called in the past “singing Marez’s praises” for helping them with over-heated engines, empty tanks or flat tires, said Moore. “Whatever the case, Ronnie has been a guardian angel a number of times.”
Moore made sure that Marez, who’s worked at the co-op for five years, got some high-level recognition by nominating him for the Hometown Hero flight, the co-op’s Humanitarian Award and the Touchstone Energy® Power and Hope award.
Marez said he was surprised that Cannon Air Force Base officials selected him over the two other nominees for the flight.
Flying in a commercial jet is one thing, but taking a spin in a fighter jet is another. Air Force pilots showed Marez how to breathe during high G turns and what do if nausea hit, among other things. He was fitted for a flight suit, boots and the G-suit, a girdle-type garment that mitigates the strains of high-level acceleration force, or Gs, on the body.
When that happens, Marez explained, “the blood leaves your head and you pass out. The suit inflates to keep you from doing that.”
Marez stayed conscious during the entire 90 minute flight, even though “the Gs felt like an elephant sitting on my chest.” His favorite part of the flight: a mid-flight barrel roll.
But ask him what he treasures most about the aftermath of the rescue that led to his honor? Shaking hands with the elderly woman’s son-in-law, who thanked him in person for rescuing his loved one.
“The Thunderbird flight was nice, but when her son-in-law came up to me, that was the icing on the cake. That was all I needed.”