New Mexico post renamed for female Air Force pilot killed in Afghanistan
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ruben Garibay)

New Mexico post renamed for female Air Force pilot killed in Afghanistan

After closing its doors around the time of the pandemic, American Legion Post 85 in Los Lunas, N.M., began a revitalization process that included regaining its charter in 2022 and then leasing a new building.

Named at the time the John P. Elliott American Legion Post 85 to honor the local citizen who had donated the land upon which the post’s previous facility was built, post members wanted to make a change because Elliott had not been a veteran.

When post members began looking to someone to honor, they didn’t have to look very long or hard.

On July 6, Post 85 was officially renamed Tamara L. Long-Archuleta American Legion Post 85 to honor a local native who died during a helicopter crash in 2003 while serving in the U.S. Air Force. Between 80 to 100 American Legion Family and community members were in attendance, as were military personnel and others connected to Long-Archuleta.

Post 85 is the first in New Mexico named for a female veteran.

“We wanted to rename it after a veteran, and we specifically wanted to name it after someone in the community that the community could get behind,” American Legion Post 85 First Vice Commander Andrew Sanchez. “We all knew Tamara’s story. We knew she was known in the community, and we wanted that sense of community back again.”

Long-Archuleta started college at age 16 at the University of New Mexico, graduating at age 20. During her time there, she completed the university’s ROTC program and was the first woman in the program’s history to receive her wings.

She started her helicopter training in Alabama before finishing at Kirkland Air Force Base in Albuquerque in September of 2002. Assigned to the 41st Helicopter Rescue Squadron out of Fort Moody, Ga., she was serving in Afghanistan in March 2003 when she piloted a late-night mission to transport two Afghan children with critical head injuries to Kandahar.

But the helicopter crashed into a mountain, killing Long-Archuleta and the other five crew members. The crash came one day before Long-Archuleta was set to rotate back to the United States.

Post 85 reached out to Long-Archuleta’s family to get their permission to rename the post after her. Sanchez said family members were honored by the request, something Long-Archuleta’s father, Richard Long, restated during the renaming ceremony.

“We’re just so honored,” Long said. “It’s been 21 years and she’s had several honors, and for them to still be thinking of ways to recognize her and her sacrifice makes us feel very good.”

“He was very humble and gracious,” Sanchez said. “The whole family was. They’re awesome.”

In addition to Long-Archuleta’s family and Legion Family members – including the honor guard from Carlisle Bennett Post 13 in Albuquerque – representatives from the University of New Mexico ROTC program, and military personal from both Kirtland and Moody Air Force Bases were in attendance.

The ceremony was a culmination of more than a year’s worth of work by Post 85 to regain its charter and rename the post. “It was a great feeling,” said Sanchez, who retired from the Air Force after previously serving in the U.S. Navy. “Honestly, it was a huge weight off the shoulders seeing everybody there because we had been putting so much effort into it. We’re trying to see this thing through, and to see the community support, and seeing them honoring (Long-Archuleta) and what that means to the community was just an awesome feeling.”