Soaring While Well-Grounded
Retired Air Force aerospace engineer Colonel Felix Sanchez and Judi, his wife of 48 years, now leading marriage enrichment seminars.Felix Sanchez traces his New Mexico roots back four generations, even before the Land of Enchantment became a U.S. territory. Until his sixth year, however, his parents, Jose and Carlota Sanchez, spoke only Spanish. His parents earned a meager living as migrant workers who traveled annually to Colorado to harvest potatoes, beans, and other crops. During summers, until he turned 16, Felix also worked in the fields.
Jose only went to school until sixth grade, but he told his son he could become anything he wanted — as long as he got an education and obeyed the Lord’s commandments. Felix aspired to become an airplane mechanic, so he wouldn’t have to toil as a seasonal farmhand all his life. Sanchez believes the love of God his parents instilled in him has been responsible for his opportunities and successes.
Sanchez studied diligently, earned good grades, and received a four-year full-ride scholarship to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy outside Colorado Springs. He entered the academy’s aeronautical engineering program.
“By then I had loftier goals of being an engineer instead of a mechanic,” remembers Sanchez, 70. “I was confident I could fly or design planes. It’s not that I was smarter than others; I just worked harder, studying three hours every night, knowing God had a plan for me.”
Less than stellar eyesight put the kibosh on his piloting dreams, but Sanchez soared in engineering. He earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Academy, then a master’s in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech. He served 24 years in the Air Force, rising to the rank of colonel, while leading numerous high-tech aerospace programs testing new aircraft and missile systems. He also taught four years at the academy: aircraft design and advanced concepts in automatic flight control systems, thermodynamics, flight mechanics, flight test techniques, and aircraft performance.
Along the way he served as program director for a $294 million advanced technology demonstrator aircraft program that successfully tested and validated state-of-the-art technologies for future fighter aircraft. He received the Aviation Week and Space Technology’s Distinguished Aerospace Laureate, an international award for the most outstanding contribution to aeronautics and propulsion.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1996, Sanchez became president and chief operating officer of ORION International Technologies in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Three years later, the company received the National Small Business Contractor of the Year award. In 2004, he began working for Albuquerque-based Applied Research Associates, where he remains as director of corporate development and mergers and acquisitions.
While still a student at the Air Force Academy, Sanchez met his future wife, Judi, another enrollee. They wed a month after graduation and have been together 48 years. Their one child, Jill Sanchez-Myers, graduated from the University of North Carolina Law School at Chapel Hill and is a guardian ad litem attorney in Charlotte.
During much of their marriage, Felix and Judi taught Sunday School, led home groups, and worked with youth. In 2002, the couple, who attend Abundant Life Church in Silverthorne, Colorado, began counseling married couples. For the past seven years, Felix and Judi, who are certified National Association of Marriage Enrichment Center directors, have conducted Marriage After God’s Own Heart retreats in the Central District. They serve as directors of marriage ministries for the five-state area that covers the Rocky Mountains.
The marriage seminars include a lot of instruction about God’s favor.
“I was the recipient of the blessings of my earthly father and my Heavenly Father,” Sanchez says. “Although God can use bad choices and curses for His glory, He doesn’t necessarily want people to go through those things to have a testimony to demonstrate His power and love.”
Dennis J. Rivera, director of the AG’s Office of Hispanic Relations and former superintendent of the Central District, says the couple often travel to minister in local congregations at their own expense.
“God has given Felix and Judi great skill in addressing the needs of marriages that are in trouble, or possibly stagnated, through their weekend seminars for couples,” Rivera says. “They have been a great blessing to pastoral couples, conducting marriage retreats for pastors and leaders.”