LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas—Red River Valley Association Award was presented for the first time at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, to 2nd Lt. Joshua Radjenovich a student pilot in Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 20-08, Feb. 28, 2020.
After a highly competitive 52-week class in SUPT, the instructor pilots voted which of the graduates they would most want as a wingman, flying into battle.
Upon receiving the award, the River Rats, as the members are endearingly known, give a plaque and one year’s membership to those who earn it.
The organization was started during the Vietnam War for fighter pilots among the different branches to gain a common ground and better beat the enemy through teamwork. After the war and through the years, their purpose grew to focus on caring for family members who are uniformed service aircrew, missing in action or killed in action.
The 47th Flying Training Wing recently began representing the RRVA at Laughlin. Even though it began as a group for fighter pilots, it’s now open to all military aircrew members.
Radjenovich shared it means a great deal to him that his instructors chose him for the River Rat award.
“To have people I looked up to as mentors say they would want me on their wing in combat is incredibly humbling,” Radjenovich said. “Everyone in my flight room worked incredibly hard, and I was surrounded by top-notch students so to say I was surprised to be selected for this is a huge understatement. It’s an amazing feeling being rewarded for the long nights put in during training.”
Learning the history of the award and the association and history behind it also impacted Radjenovich’s perspective on the past as well as his career to come.
“Knowing the story behind the River Rats and where they came from makes me feel especially connected to pilots in other branches and to my Air Force heritage,” he said. “The things the Rats did during Vietnam were brave and incredibly valuable to our war effort. They demonstrated firsthand that regardless of your branch of service, it is necessary to be a wingman and protect and defend the United States.”
Col. Todd Dyer, 47th FTW vice commander and RRVA member, looks forward to the association beginning its chapter at Laughlin.
“This is the first time we’ve had representation from the River Rats at Laughlin and the first RRVA award earned by a Laughlin SUPT student pilot,” Dyer said. “We need young folks to keep this organization alive and pass on the heritage of these Vietnam heroes. When we get together, they tell war stories—specifically when we’re honored with a prisoner of war’s experience, we talk about the ability to bounce back and live out the resiliency those before us shared.”