Lt. Col. Veronica J. "Vern" Hutfles
Air Force Lt. Col. Veronica J. "Vern" Hutfles, 37, of Bellevue, Nebraska, died Saturday, April 7, 2012 at her home, following a courageous seven-year battle with melanoma.
Veronica was born in Morris, Illinois on October 22, 1974, the daughter of John H. and Theresa Grotovsky Hutfles. She grew up in Seneca, Illinois and attended Seneca Grade School and High School, graduating in 1992.
After high school she entered the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, playing on the women’s varsity basketball team. In 1996 Veronica received her Bachelor's Degree of Science in Engineering Sciences from the Air Force Academy and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.
"Vern," as she was known, was selected for pilot training at Vance AFB, Oklahoma, earning her wings in December 1997. She received F-16 fighter plane training at Luke AFB in Arizona, attaining solo rating and initial qualification before transitioning to her permanent aircraft, the B-52, with training at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. She was then stationed at Minot AFB, North Dakota.
In 2006, she completed a Master's Degree in Business Administration specializing in Aviation Management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. In that same year she became a Special Actions Officer for the Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.
Veronica served as a combat B-52 bomber pilot on operational missions over Afghanistan with over 250 combat hours, before moving on to serve as Air Liaison Officer supporting the U.S. Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. She served on the Air Combat Command Commander's Advisory Group before completing a fellowship at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California. Her final assignment was on Strategic Command's Headquarters Staff at Offutt AFB, Nebraska.
Veronica was promoted to her final rank of Lieutenant Colonel on June 1, 2011, and served with honor on active duty, unhampered by her illness to the very end.
Veronica's exemplary service, personally and professionally, was chosen for depiction in Sascha Pflaeging's book, "When Janey Comes Marching Home: Portraits of Women Combat Veterans." The book quotes Veronica's story about a B-52 bombing run originating from the island of Diego Garcia in the Pacific, targeting a mountain pass in Afghanistan, with the mission of preventing hostile insurgents from crossing over the pass and doing battle with friendly forces.
Over her career she was decorated with the Meritorious Service Medal (1 Oak Leaf Cluster), Air Medal, Aerial Achievement Medal (1 Oak Leaf Cluster), Air Force Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Valor Device (1 Oak Leaf Cluster), Air Force Organizational Excellence Award (1 Oak Leaf Cluster), Combat Readiness Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Air Force Longevity Service (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon (1 Oak Leaf Cluster) and Air Force Training Ribbon.
Throughout her time in the Air Force, Vern continued her love of sports, participating in numerous intramural leagues for softball, hockey, and her favorite, basketball, as well as coaching several youth and Special Olympics basketball teams. She was a loving aunt for seven nieces and nephews, and godmother for two goddaughters, Veronica Rose Hutfles and Izabel Cabral.
Survivors include her mother Theresa of Centralia, Kansas; three brothers, Retired Air Force Major Anthony Hutfles of San Antonio, Texas, Air Force Lt. Colonel Gary (Claire) Hutfles of Springfield, Virginia and Steven (Svetlana) Hutfles of Fredonia, Kansas; two sisters, Janet Hutfles of Overland Park, Kansas and Joanne (Cory) Hernandez of Parsons, Tennessee; nieces and nephews, Sean, Lawrence, Veronica Rose, and Eileen Hutfles, and Bryce, Ty, and Max Hernandez; and a very special friend, Dave Cardillo of Billings, Montana.
Rosaries will be prayed at 2 & 7 PM Friday, April 13, at Lauer Funeral Home in Seneca, Kansas. Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 11 AM Saturday, April 14, at St. Bede's Church in Kelly, Kansas. Burial will be in the church cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be given for the Wounded Warriors Foundation and/or the American Melanoma Foundation, which can be sent in care of the family.