WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — An Air Force retiree has some amazing stories to tell, but he is not allowed to share a lot of them. He was part of the first group that went into the Soviet Union routinely to make sure the Soviets were truly disposing of missiles that could hit the U.S.
Retired Lt. Col. Rich Juarez graduated from the University of Kansas with an aerospace engineering degree. He was close to the end of his ROTC four-year commitment when the Air Force opened up officer training to 100 people who already had degrees.
Juarez thought his eyesight would keep him out of officer training, but he ended up as a lieutenant colonel, watching aircraft, missiles, and more.
He knows a lot about aircraft, especially the U-2, which was used as a recon plane during the Vietnam War. Juarez says the U-2 was originally developed for the CIA and has been around since the 1950s.
“I was in charge of doing maintenance on the autopilots on the U2,” Juarez said.
He did the same on DC-130s that were modified to carry what we would now refer to as drones.
“This was before we decided to call them drones, but RPVs, remotely piloted vehicles,” Juarez said.
Once the drone missions were complete, Juarez said they would fly into the Gulf of Thailand.
“The crewmen would actually reel the RPV back up,” Juarez said.
He also spent time helping to build the U.S. arsenal.
“Bombs, laser-guided bombs, missiles, air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles,” Juarez said.
While working in armament, he was offered a teaching position at the Air Force Academy.
Then the Air Force sent him for a master’s degree in aerospace engineering. He studied at the University of Texas in Austin.
Juarez worked on a project to determine how to best dispose of old runways. The team tested different kinds of missiles to get the job done.
“Essentially just create tremendous upheaval,” he said.
Juarez worked with technology of all kinds while watching others.
It was the height of the Cold War.
“Everybody was doing things to deny each other access to information,” Juarez said. “We were using all kinds of intelligence means to try to tell how the Soviets were doing. We were tracking the Soviet Union and their developments of fighter aircraft.”
Juarez said he got the opportunity to share all he had learned along the way while teaching aerospace engineering at the Air Force Academy.
“Very rewarding assignment, I really enjoyed that,” he said.
While at the academy, he and his wife also sponsored cadets.
Juarez said it was really special for his two young sons to grow up around cadets.
He also enjoyed working on the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty as it was being negotiated.
“I wrote all the operations part of it, at the front end,” Juarez said.
The treaty ordered both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to destroy all intermediate missiles, those that could travel about 3,000 miles.
“We came up with the concept for the kind of detector to be used,” Juarez said.
They also had to determine the benchmarks to know what kind of missile was really inside each canister.
He said the Soviets were not always accommodating.
Juarez said to ensure their equipment was working they had to test it with radioactive material. That means they had to travel with the substance.
“You can imagine getting approval to take radioactive equipment from the U.S. to Germany to the Soviet Union,” he said. “It was very much almost antagonistic.”
What this team came up with was used by all follow-up inspectors to keep an eye on what the Soviet Union was up to.
“First time, again, Americans routinely went into the Soviet Union,” Juarez said.
He said while they were there, the Soviets kept close watch on them.
Juarez became close with a Russian interpreter. As Juarez was preparing to fly home, the interpreter said something that, to this day, still makes him emotional.
“He came up to me and told me, he said, ‘I would give anything if my wife and family could get on that airplane with you, to go back, to go to the United States,'” Juarez said.
Juarez has memories he can share very little about and those that bring big smiles.
He served more than two decades and there was always one mission.
“Make sure that the United States is not surprised by technology developments taking place,” Juarez said.
He said at one time a Soviet pilot wanted to defect to the U.S. The pilot landed in Japan.
“This was a great opportunity for the United States to do an exploitation of one of the Soviet’s most advanced aircraft,” Juarez said.
He said when they were done, they mailed the plane back to the Soviet Union in pieces.