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Capts. Steve Ritchie & Chuck DeBellevue
Capts. Richard “Steve” Ritchie (left) and Charles “Chuck” DeBellevue after a mission. Ritchie and DeBellevue scored four of their MiG victories while flying together. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Vietnam ace talks about AF experience

Posted 4/11/2007   Updated 4/11/2007 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Jacob Corbin
82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

4/11/2007 - SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- With the mission under way, a young pilot and weapons system officer begin taxiing out when suddenly an emergency strikes. Their brakes somehow become locked up, and it takes full power to even inch to the side.

All around the handicapped F-4 Phantom, people grow nervous. The aircraft is just one of nearly 60 leaving for an offensive in North Vietnam. If it doesn't take off, no one else does either.

Luckily for the members of the "Triple Nickel," the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, the men on the ground sprung into action. They completely replaced the aircrafts brakes in only ten minutes, letting the mission go on as scheduled.

This is only one of many stories that retired Col. Charles "Chuck" DeBellevue has from his 30-year career in the U.S. Air Force.

Colonel Debellevue is the highest scoring Vietnam War fighter ace, the last combat era to produce aces, with six kills attributed to him. But, flying over Vietnam wasn't the only thing he did, eventually going on to hold positions such as operations officer and wing commander.

When thinking back on that day he sat in his F-4 waiting anxiously, he still seems grateful for what those men did for him and the mission.

"People can do amazing things," he said, "because they want to, because they're part of a team. You can order them to, but if their heart and soul isn't in it, they won't work as hard as they can."

The colonel said that experiences like that helped shape him into the leader he eventually became.

"Leadership is not the same as management," he said. "You can learn management, leadership just has to come. A leader has to be up front, but never has to look back. You just know they're behind you."

Colonel Debellevue said it's the people that make the military effective. It can have the greatest planes and machines in the world, but without the people and teamwork, they're useless.

"It's a team effort," he said. "That's what the Air Force is, it teaches you the abilities for the team to score," he said."

Colonel Debellevue retired from active duty in January 1998 with 220 combat-flying hours, 96 of those being in Vietnam.

"I joined the Air Force because I figured I owed this country a debt (and) that debt was freedom," Colonel Debellevue said. "If we aren't willing to stand up for this country, we're not going to have it for long."

Col. Debellevue visited Sheppard to speak at the April 6 Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program graduation.

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