Los Lunas American Legion Post makes her-story

Jul. 6—LOS LUNAS — When American Legion Post 85 was revived in September 2022, after the pandemic, its members viewed it as a great opportunity to chart a new course for their post. And this chapter in the post's history, which dates back 75 years, would open under another name.

It was initially named after John P. Elliot, a citizen of Valencia County who provided the land in Los Lunas where the post is located. But members learned Elliot was not a veteran.

"(Elliot) graciously donated the property for the post, but we wanted to change the name to a veteran that we could honor," said Cathy Chalk, the commander of Post 85.

Members began looking for Valencia County veterans, eventually landing on Belen native Tamara Long-Archuleta, who served as a captain in the U.S. Air Force and was a helicopter rescue pilot with the 41st Helicopter Rescue Squadron.

On March 23, 2003, during a deployment in Afghanistan, Long-Archuleta was flying a rescue mission to save two injured Afghan children when her helicopter, an HH-60G Pave Hawk named the Komodo 11, crashed into a mountain. All six crew members on board died instantly. Long-Archuleta was 23.

In honor of her service and the legacy she left, Post 85 decided to rename its post in honor of Long-Archuleta, becoming the first American Legion Post in New Mexico to be named after a female veteran.

"Honoring her and her memory and family is just a great feeling," said Andrew Sanchez, vice commander of Post 85.

The post held a renaming ceremony in Los Lunas on Saturday. In attendance were dozens of military personnel, community members and Long-Archuleta's family.

"We're just so honored," said Richard Long, Long-Archuleta's father. "It's been 21 years and she's had several honors and for them to still be thinking of ways to recognize her and her sacrifice makes us feel very good."

From a young age, Long-Archuleta had her eyes fixed on the sky. Fascinated with aircraft and flying, she began flying fixed-wing planes at the age of 14, according to her father.

"She was always highly motivated," he said. "She started college at the age of 16 and had her associates from (the University of New Mexico) at 18."

At age 20, she graduated summa cum laude from UNM with a Bachelor of Arts in political science. Long-Archuleta also participated in the university's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program and was the first woman in the program's history to receive her wings.

Using that as a launching pad to start a career in the Air Force, she was soon assigned to helicopter school in Enterprise, Alabama, and completed her training at Kirkland Air Force Base in Albuquerque in September 2002. She was later assigned to the 41st Helicopter Rescue Squadron.

During this time, she was also raising her son Donaciano, who was present at Saturday's ceremony. Now 25 years old, Donaciano was 3 at the time his mother died. He doesn't remember his mother well, he said, but to hear how people spoke about her and her service brought a smile to his face.

"There's so many people here who care about my mom and her sacrifice," he said. "It means a lot."

Gino Gutierrez is the good news reporter at the Albuquerque Journal. If you have an idea for a good news story, you can contact him at goodnews@abqjournal.com or at 505-823-3940.