The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Familiar face takes lead

New Thunderbird commander Lt. Col. John Caldwell was at Cannon from 2005 to 2007.


August 12, 2018

Courtesy photo

Lt. Col. John Caldwell, formerly stationed at Cannon Air Force base, will take command of the United States Air Force Thunderbirds for the 2019 and 2020 demonstration seasons

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Yes, that was a familiar name announced last month as the new commander/leader of the United States Air Force Thunderbirds.

Lt. Col. John Caldwell was stationed at Cannon Air Force Base from 2005 to 2007. He was selected to head up the group of 12 Thunderbird pilots who perform awe-inspiring aerial demonstrations all over the country.

"It's a very unique opportunity, I'm very excited about it," Caldwell said in a telephone interview last week. "I'm also honored and humbled and grateful to have been chosen. It's a huge sense of responsibility as well; it's an important mission that they execute."

Caldwell will be tasked with leading the demonstrations as the No. 1 jet in formations, along with oversight of the elite group.

Caldwell said his interest in the Thunderbirds was twofold. Even though he's currently serving as commander of the 28th test and evaluation squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Caldwell said he always had the goal of commanding a squadron with a flying mission.

"In my time in the Air Force I've had the ability and privilege to develop airmanship and flying skill and I've always wanted a job that requires me to be an excellent manager, leader and aviator and the Thunderbird position suits that perfectly," he said.

He was also drawn to the position because flying with the Thunderbirds is dramatically different than the 2,300 hours of flight time he's spent in the F-16 thus far in his Air Force career.

"Just the pure flying challenge of it I think is something that can reinvigorate you even in the later years of your career," Caldwell said.

"And it wasn't just the flying piece. It was also just the interaction with the people on the road with the crowd. It's pretty humbling to realize that just your interaction can motivate, inspire, and retain folks."

Caldwell said Cannon was his first operational assignment and as such it was one of his favorites during his 15-plus years in the Air Force.

"We were blessed to go to Italy later and Monterey, California, so that's saying quite a bit that we really enjoyed our time there (at Cannon) compared to those two assignments," Caldwell said.

Caldwell said he used to enjoy watching thunderstorms form over eastern New Mexico before rolling into Texas, and he was especially grateful for the interaction between the Clovis and Cannon communities.

"I think the part about Cannon that we liked, for one my wife was really integrated into the community," Caldwell said. "She made a lot of good friends, lasting friendships. So we really felt like we were a part of that community and the community really embraced us and we appreciated that."

United Way of Eastern New Mexico Executive Director Erinn Burch got to know Caldwell and his wife Christine, who worked as the campaign manager at United Way while living in Clovis.

"They were just both very down-to-earth people, really generous and attentive. Just a great little family. I've just enjoyed watching them on Facebook and seeing their family grow," said Burch, referencing the son and two daughters the Caldwells have added to the family since leaving Cannon.

Caldwell said he also enjoyed developing his flying skills while stationed at Cannon.

"I went from wingman to instructor by the time I was leaving in 2 1/2 years, so that just kind of shows you how much I absorbed, learned and grew as a fighter pilot and that all occurred at Cannon and I think that really set the tone for my career and the rest of my life," Caldwell said.


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