Aida O’Connor, iconic leader of Aerospace Valley

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Command Chief Master Sgt. Ian Eishen, 412th Test Wing Command Chief Master Sergeant, presents Edwards Air Force Base Civilian-Military Support Group President Al Hoffman and Civ-Mil Founder, Aida O’Connor with a commemorative sword in recognition of Civ-Mil’s 30 years of continuous support to the base. The group was established in 1989 and was spearheaded by Aida O’Connor. O’Connor, along with other civic leaders, was invited to visit Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., by Maj. Gen. John Schoeppner, the Air Force Flight Test Center commander at the time. O’Connor was so impressed by the Patrick AFB Civ-Mil group that she was inspired to form a civ-mil group in the Antelope Valley. In late 1989, O’Connor along with a small group of civic leaders officially formalized the group. The group’s past projects include providing flags, flag poles, picnic tables and benches for the Flag Park; picnic tables for the Air Force Flight Research Laboratory; the Higher Grounds Internet Café; and providing goodie bags for deployed service members, amongst other ongoing projects. (Air Force photograph by Danny Bazzell)

The memorial service for Aida is scheduled for 11 a.m., September 12 at The Highlands Church on 20th St. West in Palmdale; a reception will follow. All are invited.

 
Arriving at the Main Base of Edwards Air Force Base, you are going to see a large courtyard with the flags of 50 states, and branches of service. Because the blue skies over Edwards supply some of the world’s best wind supply, the flags are flapping briskly in the breeze.

Today, and really for all time to come, those flags will stand as a tribute to the legacy of Aida O’Connor, recently recognized by the Air Force for her role as founder of the Edwards Air Force Base Civilian-Military Support Group. She founded the group 30 years ago, a time that whooshed past at jet speed.

Together with the group’s current president, Al Hoffman, and Chief Master Sgt. Ian Eishen (the command chief master sergeant for the 412th Test Wing), the 78-year-old O’Connor accepted a ceremonial sword presented in gratitude by leadership of the world’s foremost test flight facility. You can rest assured, even in fragile health, O’Connor could wield that terrible, swift sword, and do it with a smile.

So we remember, Aida O’Connor — March 14, 1941 to Aug. 16, 2019.

“It is with deep sorrow that I am passing along the sad news that we lost an Antelope/Aerospace Valley icon yesterday — Aida O’Connor,” Hoffman said  in an announcement sent out Aug. 17 to membership of the Civilian-Military Support Group.

“The Founder of our Edwards AFB Civilian-Military Support Group for 30 years was such an indefatigable, gregarious and honorable person. She was a true leader within our community for decades,” Hoffman said.

Civ-Mil wasn’t the only group in the Valley that she founded, or led but the Civ-Mil Group is the one that has landmarks attached to it.

This “Flags of Honor” parade surrounding the Bell Airacomet fighter test prototype of World War II lets every airman know a little bit of home came with them. It was dedicated through O’Connor’s efforts. The group O’Connor founded replaces the flags, no cost to taxpayers.

Along the way, the Civ-Mil Group, an amalgam of civilian and military AV leaders, has volunteered on behalf of airmen and their families for 30 years. The Airman’s Attic, for what families need to get settled, the Higher Group Internet Cafe, to keep airmen in touch with their loved ones, countless “goody bags” packed for deploying airmen. Air women, too, but like Marines, soldiers and sailors, they are all called airmen.

“Edwards has simply the best Civilian-Military Support Group,” said Brig. Gen. John E. “Dragon” Teichert, commander of the 412th Test Wing, and therefore commander of the world’s greatest test flight facility. “We could not do what we do without the support we get from this community.”

Edwards Air Force Base Civil Air Patrol Composite Squadron 84 United States Air Force Auxiliary hosted a National Wreaths Across America Day at Flag Park at Edwards. Flag Park was sponsored by the then newly-formed Edwards Air Force Base Civilian-Military Support Group in the early 1990s. (Air Force photograph by Kenji Thuloweit)

Attorney James Charlton, a combat veteran and past AV Board of Trade president, put it, “When Aida O’Connor comes along and says ‘I need you to do something,’ you might as well just smile, and go along quietly.”

Aida drafted me to be a ghost writer and editor on the 25th Anniversary hardbound book that celebrated the founding of the Edwards Civilian-Military Support Group. It is a big blue book that graces every Chamber of Commerce in the AV, and lots of other places, too. Lots of history. When Aida O’Connor drafted me, I went along quietly, and with a smile.

O’Connor’s daughter, Yvette Valencia Emard, remembers as a girl, watching her mother “rising out of her chair with her hand over her heart, every night when the channels on TV would go off playing our national anthem, and yes, she sang along, proudly.”

For her unstinting support of the U.S. Military, representing the U.S. Air Force, O’Connor was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Humanitarian Award.

In addition to Civ-Mil, and Board of Trade, she packed her gear with the Greater Antelope Valley Association of Realtors, and the Palmdale Sheriffs Boosters, and a bushel of chambers of commerce.

Probably she was happiest about her dozen grown children, 32 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren, according to her own relatively recent biography, but that could have changed. She was matriarch of a big family. And an even bigger extended family of fans and admirers in the Aerospace Valley.

See the flags in the wind, and raise a salute for Aida O’Connor, advocate, patriot and enthusiastic civilian supporter of the U.S. military at Edwards.