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New commander installed at White Sands Missile Range

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE – A large crowd of Mesilla residents gathered for the Change of Command ceremony at White Sands Missile Range this week to welcome home one of their own.

SANCHEZ: Distinguished NMSU grad

SANCHEZ: Distinguished NMSU grad

As Army Brig. Gen. Eric L. Sanchez took over command of WSMR from Brig. Gen. Timothy Coffin, Sanchez’s wife, Teresa, was there by his side.

“It’s good to be home,” said Teresa Sanchez, a Mesilla native.

The Sanchezes have two grown daughters.

Mesilla Mayor Nora Barraza attended Thursday’s ceremony, which was conducted with the dramatic Organ Mountains serving as the backdrop. Also there were Mesilla resident Neri Frietze and other members and friends of the Frietze family. Teresa Sanchez is also a Frietze.

“I’m here to represent the family,” Neri Frietze said. “This is a proud day for all of us.”

It is also a homecoming for Sanchez, a 1987 distinguished military graduate at New Mexico State University. He acknowledged that in his first comments as the 33rd Army officer to assume command of WSMR. Altogether, there have been 36 leaders at WSMR since it opened in 1945, including three civilians: Paul Mann, Robert Carter and Thomas Berard who each served interim positions as WSMR directors.

“Bienvenidos,” Sanchez said. “It’s great to be back in New Mexico.”

Sanchez returns to his home state after serving as commanding general of the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, at Fort Shafter, in Honolulu, Hawaii.

“He comes from the white sands of Waikiki to the white sands of, well, White Sands,” said Maj. Gen. Daniel Karbler, commanding general of the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command. “We’re glad to have you on board. You’re the right guy. You come in with the right skills, the right background.”

Sanchez’s military education includes the Air Defense Artillery basic and advanced courses, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School and the Command and General Staff College. He earned Master of Science degrees from Central Michigan University and the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

Karbler also praised Coffin, who has retired from the Army after a 35-year career. Coffin will be moving to Colorado Springs, Colo.

“Your persistence, your leadership has made a difference here at White Sands,” Karbler said to Coffin. “You have done a magnificent job with all the available resources here. Not only did he get the job done right, (Coffin) got it done with excellence.”

In turn, Coffin praised the work ethic of WSMR personnel and the strong commitment and support of the nearby communities of Las Cruces, Alamogordo and El Paso.

“It is really exciting to see people grow into new positions,” said Coffin, of the ability of WSMR’s military personnel and civilian employees to adjust, adapt and excel. He also applauded them for often working long hours and for their professional commitment to the thousands of military tests and missions conducted at WSMR during Coffin’s time as commander.

Coffin, who had been at WSMR a little more than two years, added the support from communities also had a significant impact in WSMR’s successes.

“To do things like that takes a team,” Coffin said. “It’s a joint team, all the services, all the agencies, (and) all the civilians.”