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October 28th, 2006back

Ralph Posada's 35th Anniversary

For 35 years, Rafael Posada has helped turn Valley International Airport into the bustling hub of the Rio Grande Valley. Next week, he celebrates his rise from luggage handler to maintenance supervisor of the airport that spans 2,300 acres. "It feels great to work here," Posada, 56, said.

On Nov. 1, 1971, Posada was 21 when he started work as a "sky cap." "I was helping people with their luggage, helping them to the ticket counter, helping them to their vehicles," he said. Soon, he joined the maintenance department, where he cut grass around the airport. Before long, he was riding a tractor. Then 22 years ago, he took over as maintenance supervisor. Times have changed a lot, he said. In the early 1970s, he remembers the airport's big slowdown after Texas International and Braniff Airways pulled out. By 1975, Southwest Airlines ushered a new age. Then, American Airlines followed. "We started getting more people in here flying out," he said. In the 1990s, the airport underwent a multimillion-dollar facelift.

"We had to make a change, and there was more work to be done," Posada said. Then Sept. 11, 2001, transformed the airport much as it has changed America. "The mood has changed a lot. It's more serious now," Posada said. "There's a lot more security and a lot more people watching out. We've got to be careful about what we do, so if you escort someone, you've got to be with him all the time. We can't leave him alone."

Across the grounds, Posada's 11-man crew paints runways, mows swaths of land and keeps up "jet bridges" on which passengers step from jet exits into airport lobbies. "Every day is different trying to keep the airport running," he said.