R. Stephen Ritchie (Retired)
A command pilot with more than 4,000 flying hours including 800 combat hours, General Ritchie is our last American Ace. He’s the only Air Force Pilot "Ace" of the Vietnam conflict as well as the Air Force’s first and only pilot ace since the Korean War as well as the only American pilot in history to down five MIG-21s. In 1968, General Ritchie served as an F-4 pilot at DaNang Air Base, Vietnam, where he flew the first F-4 Fast Forward Air Controller (FAC) mission in Southeast Asia. In 1969 he completed the F-4 fighter Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nevada and became one of the youngest instructors in the history of the school. General Ritchie volunteered for a second tour in Southeast Asia in January 1972 and was assigned to the 432d Tactical Fighter Reconnaissance Wing. He served as Wing Weapons Officer, and it was during this tour that General Ritchie scored five MIG-21 victories. As a winner of the Air Force Cross, four Silver Stars, 10 Distinguished flying crosses and 25 Air Medals, General Ritchie understands the commitment to excellence. This commitment flavors his four programs: Why Not the Best?, The Battle of Ideas, Top Gun Performance and The Cutting Edge.
Gen. Ritchie's wife, Mariana, travels with him and often speaks for 10 to 15 minutes after he does. She escaped communism in Romania when Reagan was President and she, too, has a very compelling story to tell. One attendee wrote, "To listen to Mariana, who actually lived under communist oppression, speak about how America gave them hope, inspired me. Honestly, my opinion previously has been that Vietnam was a moot conflict and we didn't have much reason to be there. Also, I was under the impression that everybody around the world hated our country. Listening to the General and his wife changed that for me. When she said that, ‘In Vietnam, every time the Americans did something, it gave them hope regardless of how it affected them,’ I was touched. To hear her say that she would die for that hope because that is how oppression affected them made me rethink everything I thought I knew. While little girls in America dream of Prince Charming, little girls in communist countries dream of American fighter pilots who will come and take them away.... In a sentence, she validated our military’s presence and actions."
General Steve Ritchie and Mariana Ritchie