A UNM alumna was killed Sunday when the helicopter she was copiloting crashed in southeastern Afghanistan during a mission to rescue two critically injured children.
Tamara Long Archuleta, 23, 1st Lt. In the United States Air Force, is described by those who remember her best as an ambitious person who seemed to always accomplish her goals no matter how much work was required.
"She's always been a very driven person," said Richard Long, Long Archuleta's father. "She never was satisfied - she strove to always be at the top."
Long Archuleta graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in political science from UNM after earning her associate's degree from the Valencia branch campus where she had been selected to be her class valedictorian in 1997.
"She is one of the best students I have ever worked with - a terrible loss," said Mark Peceny, associate professor of political science at the UNM main campus.
All six crewmembers of the 41st Rescue Squadron - part of the 347th Operation Group out of Moody Air Force Base in Georgia - were killed in the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter crash. Richard Long said his daughter had just performed a successful rescue mission the previous night. The Pave Hawk is primarily used in extraction and insertion missions during booth day and night.
"She was one of our top cadets," said Lt. Col. Richard Trembley, commanding officer of the UNM Air Force ROTC program. "A very admirable cadet and a very focused individual."
Long Archuleta was enrolled in the two-year officer training corps program and during her time at UNM was also was the commander of the Arnold Air Society, a service organization for Air Force cadets.
"She pushed you, she set an example," said Air Force cadet Ralph Merrill, who was mentored by Long Archuleta when he started the ROTC program. "Really, she was a role model."
Theresa Carabajal, an employee at the campus Air Force office, said she has seen nearly 1,000 cadets who have been commissioned as officers through ROTC, but she remembered Long Archuleta for her outstanding performance in the classroom and because she was willing to cut half off half of her knee-length hair to make her training easier.
"That was her sort of sacrifice," Carabajal said.
Richard Long said his daughter excelled at whatever she tried, including winning three-straight championships in her age division for Karate form and two straight championships in her age division for the fighting competition.
"She was always an accomplished athlete," he said.
Richard Long said he is proud of his daughter and that she died while doing what she loved and while trying to help those in need - a small piece of comfort for his family.
"I want my little girl remembered in the right way," he said. "My baby died a hero."
He added that during this time of war in Iraq, the military campaign in Afghanistan and while Albuquerque sees protest after protest, he would like for everyone in the community to stop and think about the sacrifices the men and women of the military, as well as their families, are making.
"I'm not the only dad right now who is going to have to bury their child," he said. "She died doing what she wanted to do."