Rio Hondo senior looks to the future, preps to fly plane

RIO HONDO — For four years, cadet Lt. Col. Michael E. Mares has geared up for his first flight.

And he’s going to at the control panel.

In ninth grade, Mares joined Rio Hondo High School’s Air Force Junior ROTC program, planning to hone his leadership skills.

“My friend was in it and said it helped him build leadership skills and work with other people,” said Mares, 17, a senior who’s the son of Florinda Mares of San Benito.

“The fact we’re learning about the Air Force is pretty cool, too,” he said.

In the classroom, Mares holds a 3.19 grade-point average, ranking in the top 20 percent of his graduating class.

In the school’s Junior ROTC program, he serves as his unit’s deputy group commander.

During his four years, the program has helped forge his character.

“It’s helped me build my leadership skills,” Mares said.

“If I was with a group of people and they needed guidance, I’d be able to guide them.”

In May, Mares will learn to fly a Cessna as part of the program’s flight training school.

“That will be my first time in a plane,” he said. “I feel excited but kind of nervous at the same time.”

Now, Mares is learning how to operate the airplane’s control panel.

“We’re learning about the transponder — when flying, it starts transmitting your location to radar,” Mares said.

“We’re learning how to operate the radio, conveying position and attempting to contact the airport we plan to land at.”

After he graduates, he plans to attend Texas State Technical College, where he wants to train in auto body refinishing.