Board Members of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation
Colonel Victor Bianchini
USMCR - Retired, Chairman of the Board
Victor is a distinguished retired Reserve Marine Corps Colonel, a retired San Diego County Superior Court Judge and a retired U.S. Magistrate Judge currently serving on recall to the Central District of California. His Marine Corps Reserve duty tours are numerous and include; Tank Platoon Commander, 4th Tank Battalion; Platoon Commander, S-3, Executive Officer and Commanding Officer of the 4th Force Reconnaissance Company, and was the unit’s jumpmaster; He was the Commanding Officer of the Mobilization Training Unit (MTU Law) 12-1, San Diego, and the OIC and Senior Military Judge of the Reserve Military Judges Unit, Sierra Circuit, Camp Pendleton; Special Staff Officer, MCRSC, Overland Park, KS; Deputy Inspector General, U.S. European Command, Vaihingen, Germany. His active duty tours included Special Staff Officer to the Commanding General, OIC of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing’s Photo Labs, Civil Affairs Officer, and Combat Correspondent in the Republic of Vietnam; Trial and Defense Counsel for Court Martials, Iwakuni, Japan, Cherry Point, NC, and MCRD, San Diego at various installations; and as an Investigating Inspector General Headquarters Marine Corps, during the 1991 Gulf War.
He is a former aircraft owner holding commercial multi-engine, instrument and helicopter licenses, and a pilot rating in the Cessna Citation C-500. He has both practiced law and taught law; been San Diego Trial Lawyers’ Judge of the Year, served as a Senior Fulbright Scholar in the Sub-Saharan African country of Eritrea, been President of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Historical Society, Vice-chairman of the Vietnam Veteran’s Village of San Diego, General Counsel of the Flying Leathernecks Foundation, a member of the National Judicial College Faculty Council, President of the San Diego County Law Library Board of Trustees, and President of the San Diego County Law Library Justice Foundation. He was recently honored by San Diego State University as a Distinguished Alumnus; he also received the prestigious “Witkin” Award from the San Diego Law Library for “Excellence in Adjudication of the Law. He is also listed by the San Diego County Bar Association as a “Legend of the Bar.” He is currently a Director on the San Diego County Bar Association Board of Directors.
Among his 26 military awards, are his personal decorations which include the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star w/Combat “V”, 3 Air Medals, Joint Services Commendation Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon, Combat Aircrew Qualification, Navy/Marine Corps Parachute Qualification, and Vietnamese Parachute Qualification.
CAPT Ronald G. Ress
JAGC, USNR - Retired, Vice Chairman of the Board
In 1985, Mr. Ress joined the Office of the General Counsel of the Navy as Counsel to the Commander, Marine Corps Air Bases, Western Area, and served at Marine Corps Air Stations El Toro and Miramar.
He was reassigned to Naples, Italy in 2001 as Command Counsel to Engineering Field Activity Mediterranean and then Naval Facilities Engineering Command Europe and Southwest Asia. Returning from overseas in June of 2007, he became Counsel for Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii, and in 2009 was selected for the position of Counsel, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific. In October, 2011, Mr. Ress returned to Italy as Counsel to the Commander, Navy Region Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia.
He completed his military service as the senior Naval Reserve Judge Advocate in Europe and retired with the rank of Captain in 2005. His military awards include the Legion of Merit, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Navy Achievement Medal (third award), the Navy “E” ribbon, the Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Military Outstanding Volunteer Medal, and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with “M” device.
Patrick dedicates his professional endeavors to the study and practical application of modern technology. His expertise in digital technology helped overhaul the Foundation’s social media strategy, the design, and launch of a new website, the development, and execution of strategies for increasing visitation, membership, and museum support through various social media platforms.
Patrick is a Graduate Gemologist (G.G.) and holds a BS degree in e-Business from the University of Phoenix. He has traveled the globe as Director of Alumni Relations, public speaker, project management consultant, and public relations liaison for the GIA. Patrick is an accomplished writer. He writes numerous articles for the Log Book, pens a regular blog and produces a series of educational podcasts.
A life-long aviation and space enthusiast, Patrick also enjoys distance cycling, hiking, golf, photography, playing guitar and wilderness camping.
Lieutenant Colonel Joe Bassi, PhD
USAF - Retired, Board Member
Joseph P. (Joe) Bassi is an adjunct (online) lecturer at the University of Texas/El Paso in National Security Studies. He specializes in teaching the history of modern US science, physical sciences, and national security issues. During his PhD program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Dr. Bassi was an Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation National Science Foundation IGERT Public Policy and Nuclear Threats research fellow at University of California, San Diego and also was a Guggenheim pre-doctoral fellow in Space History at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution. From 2010 until May 2017 and his retirement, he was an assistant professor of arts and science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University/Worldwide. His 2015 book, “A Scientific Peak: How Boulder Became a World Center for Space and Atmospheric Science,” recently was selected as one of the best books in atmospheric sciences for 2015 (History category) by Atmospheric Sciences Librarians International.
A retired US Air Force officer with 26 years of active duty, he at various points in his military career served six years as a Professor of Strategic Studies at a DOD college, Headquarters US Air Force Action Officer and Program Element Manager, Director of the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (Guam), Chief of the Acquisition Meteorology Office at Air Force Space Systems Division, and Assistant Professor of Physics at the USAF Academy. After retirement from active service, Dr. Bassi served as a space policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense while working for the Aerospace Corporation. In addition to the PhD, he has graduate degrees in Meteorology from Penn State, Astrophysics from the University of Colorado, and History from the George Washington University. While at GWU, he was a NASA Space Grant Research Fellow at the Space Policy Institute, Elliot School of International Affairs. He graduated from Manhattan College in 1974 with a BS in Physics (Phi Beta Kappa) and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force ROTC program.
Colonel Bart Connolly
USMC - Retired, Board Member
Significant assignments include: Executive Officer and Commanding Officer of Marine Helicopter Light Attack Squadron367 (1986-1987 and 1992-1993, respectively); S-3 Operations and Executive Officer Marine Air Group 39 (1985-1986 and 1993-1994, respectively); J-5 Aviation Plans Officer CENTCOM (1988-1990); Commanding Officer Marine Air Group 42 (1994-1996); and Assistant Chief of Staff G-4 I& L Marine Corps Bases Western Area 1996-2001.
Colonel Connolly is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College, Air War College, and University West Florida Public Administration Master’s program.
Since retirement from the military, he has become a licensed General Contractor, Small Business owner, and held senior executive management positions in federal/state capital construction public works programs and in Iraq as a civilian contractor.
He is a member of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation Board of Directors, providing public works capital improvement expertise.
Robert “Bob” Cramsie is a career aerospace maintenance and manufacturing technician. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation Technology from Everglades University and a Masters of Aeronautical Science with an emphasis on Human Factors in Aviation Systems from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. A licensed Airframe and Powerplant mechanic with the FAA, he is currently a volunteer in charge of restoration of the Douglas SBD-1 Dauntless that is the pride of the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum.
Bob spent his early professional career as an aircraft maintenance technician beginning with Pacific Southwest Airlines and US Airways (now American Airlines). He continued his aerospace career at Lockheed Martin Aerostructures in Florida as a Lead sheet metal technician, building canopies and components for the F-16 and F/A-22 aircraft along with sub-assemblies for the C-130 Hercules.
Col John Farnam
USMC - Retired, Board Member
John served 26 years in the Marine Corps as a Weapons and Sensors Officer flying the FA-18D. He flew numerous combat sorties in Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo and Iraq. John was a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron Instructor and selected as the Marine Corps Aviation Naval Flight Officer of the Year in 1998. He served as the Commanding Officer of Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron -533 (VMFA(AW)-533) and as a Colonel was the Commanding Officer of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Retiring from the Marine Corps in 2015 he is now the Vice President for Business Operations at Receptos.
Pat holds an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in economics from Mount Holyoke College. She also holds certifications in Museum Management (Northwestern University) and Fundraising Management (Indiana University).
In 1972, Bill served in Southeast Asia, serving with VMA(AW)-533 Hawks. The bulk of Bill’s WestPac time was spent at MCAS “Rose Garden,” Nam Phong, Thailand. During his tour, he primarily participated in close air support missions throughout the combat theater. He also flew single plane night missions in to North Vietnam.
Bill’s final assignment was as an Officer Selection Officer (OSO) in Denver. He separated from the Marine Corps with a final rank of Captain.
Bill has enjoyed a 40-year career as an independent entrepreneur in the San Diego region, owning his own agency selling commercial lighting equipment to the local and regional construction markets.
Rear Admiral Lou Smith
USN, Retired, Board Member
He retired from the Navy in 2000 as a two-star Admiral, directly responsible for more than 360 major naval bases throughout the world.
After retiring, he chose to work in the public sector, serving as Chief Administrative Officer for San Diego City Schools. He had a major role in the execution of Proposition MM, a $1.5 billion school bond.
Smith most recently served as Vice President of Facilities for Sharp Healthcare in San Diego. During his tenure there, he was involved in the construction of two new hospitals, each with a construction value of more than $150 million. He retired from Sharp in 2008.
A registered professional civil engineer, Smith is a Fellow and Past National President of the Society of Military Engineers. His civic experience includes serving on the Board of Directors of the San Diego County Taxpayer’s Association, and the Board of Sharp Coronado Hospital.
Lieutenant Colonel Richard "Touch" Toettcher
USMC - Retired, Board Member
Richard (Touch) Toettcher was commission a 2nd Lt in Oct.1963. His first duty assignment after being designated a Naval Aviator was with MAG-36 at MCAS Tustin, serving with HMM-363,263, and 361.Deployed to RVN with HMM-361 in 1965. Transitioned to the A-4 (Skyhawk) in 1968 and served a tour with VMA-211 at Chu Lai, RVN.
Attended the Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School in 1970 and, upon completion, was sent to MCAS Yuma as a flight instructor. Was promoted to major in 1972 and ended that tour as the Executive Officer of VMAT 102.
Subsequent command assignments included Executive Officer of VMA-214, Commanding Officer of Wing Transportation Squadron and Commanding Officer of Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron 13.
Touch retired from the Marine Corps in 1986 and subsequently worked as production pilot for the T-45 and, from 1991 to retirement in 2010, he served in various positions of increasing responsibility at DynCorp.
He is a CPA in private practice. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance from San Diego State University. In 1996, Mr. Towle received his Master of Science in Accountancy, also from San Diego State.
After working for Arthur Andersen and several other industry leading companies in the Technology and Professional Service industries, Mr. Towle went into private practice.
While in private practice, Mr. Towle has continued to work with global companies in such diverse industries as Medical Equipment and Manufacturing.
Mr. Towle’s connection to Marine Corps aviation goes back to birth. He is the son and brother of Marine Aviators.
Sergeant Major Michael Zacker
USMC - Retired, Board Member
Mike is a highly decorated and accomplished Marine whose illustrious worldwide career on land, sea and air spanned two wars. He served four tours in the Republic of Vietnam participating in 451 helicopter combat missions. He was a helicopter crew chief and machine gunner; rifle platoon sergeant; search and recovery swimmer; and held senior executive positions. His military awards are extensive and cover both Vietnam and the 1991 Gulf War, for example, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with combat ‘V’ for Valor and twenty-two Strike Flight Awards, and Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat ‘V’ and Gold star.
Retiring after a thirty-year career, he completed his education and became a real estate agent and manager of a mortgage company. He again retired and became a community volunteer where his many services include the American Red Cross, and the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program.
Chairman of the Board Emeritus
Major General Bob Butcher
USMC - Retired, Chairman Emeritus
His assignments included; Assistant Wing Commander; Assistant Chief of Staff for Plans and Policy for Naval Striking Forces Southern Europe, Naples, Italy; and Commanding General of a Marine Expeditionary Brigade of over 14,000 Marines. He was Commander of Landing Force Training Command at Coronado when retiring in 1992.
In retirement his community commitments have included President of the Silver Strand Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, Deputy Commander West of the Marine Corps Aviation Association, Board of Directors of the USS Midway Museum, Board of Directors of the Centennial of Naval Aviation Foundation, and Board of Directors of the Coronado Council of the US Navy League.
Ex Officio Members of the Board
Christopher Van Stelle
Christopher currently serves as the Director of the MCAS Miramar Air Show, and is also the Director of the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum. He also serves as the Vice President of the Southwest Council of Air Shows (a Regional Council of the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS), and consults on numerous aviation events around Southern California each year, including the annual SBD Fest in San Bernardino. Christopher is also the Executive Director and Air Show Director for Air Show San Diego. Prior to his current position, Christopher has assisted on the MCAS Miramar Air Show, the Hangar 24 Air Fest and the US Air Force Davis-Mothan Air Shows.
As a Pilot, Christopher planned and executed numerous aviation events including Commemorative Flyovers for the: Holiday Bowl, the San Diego Padres, the USS Midway Museum, and the Borrego Days Annual Festival. Additionally, Christopher has made numerous on-camera performances for Travel Channel’s “Ultimate Road Trips” series. He also produces FlyDays!, a monthly community outreach event with vintage airplanes, classic cars, live music and great food. He has also planned and executed multiple high-visibility events in the San Diego region utilizing his professional expertise in project/program management, risk management, executive presentations, media relations and public speaking including Jerry Coleman commemoration, ESPN opening day of the San Diego Padres/Los Angeles Dodgers, Holiday Bowl, Junior World Golf Championship and the North County Veterans Stand Down.
On the Educational side, Christopher has coordinated outreach efforts between the military and various organizations within the San Diego region to highlight the importance of the A-STEM (Aviation, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs and aviation history. In support of his education outreach efforts, Christopher has established and maintained liaisons with San Diego Air and Space Museum, USS Midway Museum, Miramar Air Show, Blue Angels, Breitling Jet Team, Skydiving Innovations, San Diego Antique Aircraft Association, and government leaders with the City & County of San Diego.
Finally, Christopher has held leadership positions on aviation safety, risk management matters and project management for multiple events.
Outside the Aviation industry, Christopher was an Executive in the Financial Services Industry and has sat on the Board of several non-profit Organizations.
Steve "Smitty" Smith
Smitty served in the United States Marine Corps from 1979 to 1999. He retired as a Staff Sergeant and Motor Transport Operations Chief at MCAS El Toro. Smitty is married to Deanne Shearn-Smith (also a museum volunteer), and has a son named Travis.
Smitty has had a life-long passion for aviation and military aircraft. He has attended more than 100 air shows around the country and in Japan, and has visited at least 60 aviation museums in both the United States and Canada. Smitty has an extensive personal library dedicated to aviation, Marine aviation, aircraft markings and identification. He is the author of the book “Warbird Watchers Guide To The California Skies” available at the museum store.
Smitty is currently completing work on an FAA certificate for Airframes & Powerplants. He is also pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in History.
Jon H. Epsten
Jon is the founding shareholder in the law firm of Epsten Grinnell & Howell, APC. He is a native San Diegan who graduated from the University of San Diego and obtained his law degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law, graduating with scholastic merit.
For years, Jon acted as a community association manager. He has attended over 1,800 association meetings. Jon’s work on behalf of community associations encompasses providing advice on all types of corporate matters including directors and officers’ defense, mold and mildew litigation, interpretation and enforcement of governing documents, assessment collection, construction defect litigation, and reconstruction issues. Jon has participated in and been lead counsel on many construction defect cases resulting in multimillion dollar settlements. He actively advises associations on risk management and insurance and contract issues.
Jon has taught as an adjunct professor of law at California Western School of Law. He is past president of both the San Diego Chapter and the Greater Inland Empire Chapter of the Community Associations Institute and has testified as an expert witness in community association-related issues. Additionally, Jon was a contributor to the Continuing Education of the Bar Publication “Advising California Common Interest Communities.” He acts as a law faculty instructor for the Community Associations Institute (CAI).
Jon has also been an active member of the California Association of Community Managers (CACM), was a member of the Professional Standards Committee, and has been appointed to the CACM faculty. He is a member of the San Diego County Bar Association, the Foothills Bar Association, and the College of Community Association Lawyers (CAI). Jon was honored with the Distinguished Service Award by both the San Diego Chapter and the Greater Inland Empire Chapter of the Community Associations Institute and has received the CAI National Hall of Fame Award. He has been the co-chair of the Committee on Common Interests Subdivisions for the State Bar, and acted as a probation monitor for the State Bar.
Jon is a valued member of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation’s team.
Brigadier General Michael J. Aguilar
USMC - Retired, Acting Executive Director
During his 31-year Marine Corps career, Mike held a variety of flying and command billets, accumulating over 4000 hours, primarily as an Attack Helicopter Pilot.
In addition to commanding a helicopter squadron and air group, he was also the Director of the West Coast Drill Instructor School, the first aviator to hold the billet. Staff assignments include Senior Military Assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and Deputy Director for Operations, the National Military Command Center, the Joint Staff.
He is a veteran of the Gulf War. His personal decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal. He has the added distinction of being the first person of Mexican descent to reach the rank of General Officer in the United States Marine Corps.
He serves as the Acting Executive Director of the Foundation
Chuck holds a BA degree in Journalism and Public Relations from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He received a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) with an emphasis in operations from the University of Redlands. Chuck also did some post graduate work in Legal Studies at the University of San Diego.
Accouting Manager and Assistant to the Volunteer Coordinator
Prior to joining the Foundation staff two years ago she served as an office administrator and bookkeeper for a San Diego law firm.
Ginger’s expertise lies in public relations, merchandising, window display, event planning, and store design. With the perspective of an accomplished interior decorator, she recognizes the roles product presentation and store design play in creating the pleasant, fun shopping experience that leads to increased sales and revenue for the Museum. Her design signature is already evident in some areas of the store, and she looks forward to implementing more improvements in the future.
Her Downtown San Diego interior decorating practice, Ginger Raaka Interiors, received “Best of Houzz” awards for design in 2016 and 2017.