By Reggie Ellis

It would be hard to top the Starlight Ball's successful attraction of Sons of the San Joaquin. As far as entertainment in the Valley goes, it would be next to impossible. But if you are looking for one of the most decorated speakers to touch down in Exeter, it would be hard to beat the top gun recruited by the Knights of Columbus for their annual Community Service Recognition Dinner.

Currently the Commander of the Strike Fighter Wing of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Capt. Vincient F. Shorts led the air attack against Iraq while serving as director of combat operations for the US Navy during Operation Enduring Freedom in May 2003. Short has served with the Aviation Distribution Branch at Bureau of Naval Personnel since December 2000 - first as Deputy Director for Aviation Officer Distribution and later as Deputy J3 for the Joint Task Force Southwest Asia, based in Saudi Arabia.

During his decorated aviation career, Shorts has logged more than 4,000 tactical jet hours and more than 600 carrier landings. His career began in the naval flight training program in August 1980 following his graduation from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. with a degree in aerospace engineering. He earned his Naval Aviator wings in April 1982 from Training Squadron 7 in Meridian, Miss., where he met his wife Evelyn M. Crowell. The couple has one son, 15-year-old Jeremy.

His initial assignment was as a student in Attack Squadron 122 training in the A-7E Corsair II. In 1983, he reported to his first operational assignment with the "Blue Diamonds" of Attack Squadron 146. While a member of the Blue Diamonds, Shorts was deployed twice to the Indian Ocean on board the USS Kittyhawk.

In June 1986, he left the Blue Diamonds to become the Advanced Strike flight instructor for the Eagles of Training Squadron 7, which trained in the TA-4J Skyhawk. He spent one year there before he was selected to serve as Advanced Strike Standardization Officer with the Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) staff in Corpus Christi, Texas. His move up the ranks made Shorts responsible for standardizing training received by all new tactical aviators. During his time at CNATRA, Shorts earned his Naval War College Degree.

In June of 1989, Shorts left CNATRA to join the Sharpshooters of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 to train on the state-of-the-art FA-18 Hornet. Following training, he reported to Strike Fighter Squadron 25 ("Fist of the Fleet") where he was deployed to the Persian Gulf onboard the USS Independence during Operation Desert Storm in 1990-1991.

In May 1992 while obtaining his master's degree in applied mathematics from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., Shorts was selected for operational command after refresher training in the Hornet. In May 1995, he was made Executive Officer of Strike Fighter Squadron 27 ("Royal Maces"), where he prepared the squadron for transition to Carrier Wing 5 in Atsugi, Japan. Shorts and the squadron left NAS Lemoore in June and assumed command of the squadron in July. In October 1997, Shorts completed his command tour and joined the Commander-in-Chief, US Pacific Fleet staff as the Fleet Readiness Officer and Flying Hour Program Manager.

Master of Ceremony

This year's MC will be NBC's KSEE 24 news anchor Rich Rodriguez.

Rodriguez grew up on his parent’s farm near Exeter. He attended Sequoia Union elementary school in Lemon Cove, then went on to Exeter High School where he was elected Student Body President in 1972. He then attended Oklahoma State University where he majored in radio and television. Rodriguez began his broadcasting career at KLWN in Lawrence, Kan. but returned to the Valley to take a job at KMJ radio in 1977. Three years later, Rich made the jump to television when he got his first anchor job at KFSN-TV. He anchored there for five years until he accepted an anchor position at KABC in Los Angeles.

After two years in the big city, Rodriguez returned to the Valley and his anchor position at KFSN. In the spring of 2001 Rodriguez came over to KSEE 24 to co-anchor KSEE 24 NEWS AT 6 and 11 p.m. In the summer of 2001, Rich took on additional duties as the co-anchor of KSEE 24 NEWS at 5 p.m. Rodriguez serves on the Board of Directors for United Cerebral Palsy and is also an avid golfer. He is married to Margaret and has six children spanning an age range of 26 years.


The Community Service Recognition Dinner is sponsored by the Exeter/Farmersville and Woodlake Councils of the Knights of Columbus. Each year the Knights honor police officers and firefighters of the year - from the communities of Exeter, Farmersville and Woodlake - and a California Highway Patrol Officer and Tulare County Sheriff's Deputy of the year.

This year's recipients are: Officer Celestino Rabena, Exeter Police Officer of the Year; Volunteer Deric Phillips, Exeter Firefighter of the Year; Detective Chris Contreras, Farmersville Police Officer of the Year; Karim H. Elbisi, Woodlake Police Officer of the Year; Deputy Daniel Baker, Sheriff's Deputy of the Year; Officer Mark Berlin, CHP Officer of the Year.

The Community Service Recognition Dinner will be held on March 6 at the Exeter Veterans Memorial Building. Dinner is at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12.50 and are on sale now at fire and police stations in Exeter, Farmersville and Woodlake. For tickets call 592-4710 or 592-3704.

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