2015-09-09, Col. Robert Kiebler, Commander, 49th Wing, Holloman AFB

Don Niewold makes a pointAt 12:10, President Alex Keatts called the meeting to order for Ana Mangino’s invocation,the Pledge of Allegiance, and Janet Green leading the club singing “This Land is Your Land.”  Don Moen was the found to be the mystery greeter, and President Alex introduced visiting Rotarian Don Buck, guests June Briggs and Tessa Valadez (who also had her first reading for membership), and Oñate Student Allina Wallace. 

President Alex announced that the board had approved a program to encourage members to bring guests considering Rotary membership to meetings; the club will cover the cost of three meals for potential members.  Harry Hansen announced that this would be his final Rotary meeting, bringing a hush from the room.  Happy dollars came from Mary Ellen McKay, Ana Mangino, and Gary Aschbacher who was happy that Theresa, pictured, was able to come with him to Rotary today.  Mary Ellen also reminded us about the Las Cruces Symphony’s “Pops Under The Stars” concert would be Sunday evening. 

Theresa and Gary Aschbacher

The Program

Les Smith introduced our speaker, Col. Robert E. Kiebler, an experienced Air Force pilot who commands the 49th Wing at Holloman Air Force Base, near Alamogordo.  A graduate of the Air Force Academy, Kiebler has significant flight time in A-10 Thunderbolts, T-28 Tucanos, and MQ-1 Predator remotely piloted aircraft (RPA).  He has been in the Air Force since 1992 and came to Holloman in July of 2014. 

The 49th Wing is the host unit at Holloman; it oversees the base and provides support to the many other units stationed there.  Its mission is to (1) deploy combat-ready airpower supporting combat operations, (2) develop the world’s best RPA enterprise, and (3) support Team Holloman, the airmen of the base and their families.  He uses the term RPA rather than “drone” or “unmanned aerial vehicle or UAV” because there are always highly trained pilots and support staff operating the aircraft.  The 49th is made up of several groups: operations, maintenance, mission support, medical, and materiel maintenance; the latter group includes the Air Force’s only Basic Expeditionary Airfield Resources (BEAR) unit. 

Col. Kiebler discussed the 18 partner units at HAFB, including the 54th Fighter Group which came from Luke AFB near Phoenix, the 96th Test Group which operates the rocket sled track, the German Air Force unit, the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron which provides target drones for WSMR testing, a large balloon operation, and the former primate research facility where about 150 chimpanzees formerly used in research are retired in the care of the National Institutes of Health.  There are a total of about 4200 uniformed personnel, 500 of them German at Holloman; with their families they number about 12,000 people.  Along with the approximately 6,000 retirees and family members, they constitute about half of the population of Alamogordo and its environs. 

Col. Kiebler described the history of Holloman from its origins in 1943 as the Alamogordo Army Air Field, and how it has become the primary RPA training base, preparing personnel for operations in combat (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria) and in humanitarian missions (i.e. Haiti).  He discussed the history of RPAs in the military, from the Kettering Bug in WWI, through the B-17’s flown from England during WWII and unmanned reconnaissance flights over North Vietnam and China, to today’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper. 

We got to see the “cockpit on the ground” where pilots use sensors and controls similar to those used to pilot manned aircraft.  He talked about the necessary training for those who had prior pilot experience, and for others without it.  Holloman expects to train over 800 pilots and sensor operators this year, more pilots than trained for bomber and fighter operations elsewhere combined.  We saw a map showing the ten or so sites around the country from where RPAs are operated; the aircraft may be anywhere in the world.  We saw videos of RPAs operating in combat scenarios and in Haitian relief operations. 

To questions by Mel, Mary Ellen and Ross, Col. Kiebler related that since the RPA can remain aloft for as long as 22 hours operators work on three shifts around the clock, that some other countries are trying to catch up to American expertise and that allied countries (UK, France, the Netherlands, Australia) have had personnel trained in our RPA operation, and that large cargoes are moved by more traditional aircraft to stage for RPA humanitarian operations. 

In conclusion, Col. Kiebler introduced the senior NCO at Holloman, CCM Scott Loescher, and public information officer TSgt Matt Rosine, who accompanied him to our meeting. 

After the Program

President Alex thanked Col. Kiebler for a very informative talk.  Executive Director Patty Groth reported that can proceeds this month and next will go to La Casa and that $32 was raised this week.  The 50/50 drawing was won by Mary Ellen McKay; if you want to win, you’ll have to buy a ticket.  We closed with the Rotary Four-Way Test.

<prior week   following week>

Guests of Rotarians



Tessa Valadez

John Pickett

June Briggs

Dinus Briggs

Visiting Rotarians


Home Club

Don Buck

Rio Grande

Student Guests



Allina Wallace








Submitted by Bill HartyBill Harty