On Patrol staff

“Leadership that inspires excellence.”

A Reidsville, North Carolina, native, Brigadier General Steve Ritchie was not only an outstanding student, but he also played football for the Air Force Academy as a “walk-on.” He became the starting halfback for the Falcons football team in 1962 and finished his college career in 1963 with an appearance at the Gator Bowl.

Upon his 1964 graduation from the Academy, Ritchie entered pilot training, finishing first in his class. He began his career piloting F-104 Starfighters and later transitioned to the F-4 Phantom II in preparation for his assignment to the 408th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Danang Air Base, South Vietnam, in 1968.

When he returned to the States in 1969, it was as an instructor at the Air Force Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. At 26, he was one of the youngest instructors in the school’s history.

A voluntary return to Southeast Asia made Ritchie the only Air Force pilot ace of Vietnam. He downed a MiG-21 on May 10 of that year; another on May 31, two on July 8 – occurring in just 1 minute, 29 seconds using only three missiles – and the last on August 28. His 339 combat missions totaled more than 800 flight hours, and he returned one of the most highly decorated pilots of the war. Not only was he awarded the Air Force Silver Cross, four Silver Stars, ten Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 25 Air Medals, he also received the 1972 “Mackay Trophy” for the most significant Air Force mission of the year.

Two years later Ritchie resigned his regular commission to make a run for the U.S. Congress in North Carolina. He also joined the Colorado Air National Guard and was appointed to the Mobilization Policy and Plans Directorate at the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 1987.

Ritchie was promoted to brigadier general in 1994 and became mobilization assistant to the commander of Air Force recruiting. He spent six years traveling the country in support of Air Force recruiting efforts. Ritchie retired in January 1999.