Pleasanton Weekly

Column - March 25, 2011

Once a Marine, always a Marine

by Jeb Bing

Uniformed men and women and other friends filled the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Pleasanton last Saturday to honor Col. Christopher R. Buescher on his retirement from the Marines. Buescher was smartly attired in a Marine dress uniform that some said was probably the same size as the one he wore in 1981 when he was commissioned as a Marine 2nd Lieutenant. He has the same esprit de corps as he had when he joined the Marines after graduating from Oregon State University, telling the crowd that "once a Marine, always a Marine." And, as a Marine, he took on a variety of challenging assignments. Selected for jet training, he received his "Wings of Gold" in March 1983, and has been flying fighter planes ever since.

After initial training in piloting the A-6E Intruder, he served 4-1/2 years with the "Green Knights" squadron on the USS Ranger carrier in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific, flew combat escort missions over Kuwaiti-flagged tankers making their way through the Strait of Hormuz, became an air-strike mission commander and later an instructor pilot training new Intruder pilots in the fine art of formation flying, day/night bombing and visual close air support and air to air combat missions.

The experience paid off for Buescher and the pilots he trained when his reserve unit was called to active duty in 2003 to become the first wave of Marines to invade Iraq. Deployed to Kuwait, Buescher was there two days before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Buescher was named the air officer for the Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Center with his unit's mission to make sure Iraqi civilians has adequate supplies of water, food and other necessities as the Marines passed through their towns on the way to Baghdad.

Buescher left active duty in the Marines in June 1991, joining the active reserves from which he officially retired Saturday. That same June, he was hired as a pilot by American Airlines. Ever since -- except for the seven months he was called back to active duty for the invasion of Iraq -- piloting Boeing 767 passenger planes, mostly between San Francisco and New York and Miami, has been his full-time job. Just as serving in the Marines was exhilarating, Buescher says flying for American is equally satisfying. He told his celebrants Saturday that "the view from my office in the sky is always changing, always great."

Buescher and his wife Tracey moved to Pleasanton's Birdland community 15 years ago. Earlier this month, they celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary. They have two daughters. Olivia, who will turn 16 May 16, is a sophomore at Amador Valley High School. Krista, 12, is in the sixth grade at Harvest Park middle School. In story and photo boards at the Veterans Hall retirement party, there were numerous photos of the girls with their mother alone while dad was away, and several photos showing the tearfully happy reunions when he came home for brief furloughs from Marine assignments.

Also at the celebration were men and women Chris Buescher served with, including retired Marines from his first squadron who flew in from the East Coast. Many were there from the Pleasanton Military Families organization, including Chris Miller, who started the group to help families left behind when the son, daughter, parent and often the bread-winner was called into active duty to serve in Iraq. Tracey Buescher, a sales associate with Prudential California Realty, joined that effort in 2003 and is in the forefront of frequent fundraisers for Pleasanton troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he's not piloting another flight to New York, Col. Buescher joins in.

He says that retiring from the Marine reserves will give him more time to volunteer. He talks about the Marines, piloting jets and other topics of interest to Pleasanton school groups. At airports, you can also see him consoling children or even older passengers who are afraid of flying. One volunteer mission he particularly enjoys is the "Snowball Express." That's a trip set up in 2006 to honor children of those who gave their lives in the military since Sept. 11, 2001 that American Airlines sponsors.

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