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Mission Ready Airmen Case Studies: Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger

  • Published
  • By by Joseph Gangemi
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs

Air Education and Training Command is reviewing moments of aviation history to reflect the importance of Agile Combat Employment, in addition to the warrior mindset and mission readiness its Airmen must sustain while preparing for the future fight.

Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger served as the crew chief of a radar team on Lima Site 85, a ground radar installation in Laos, during an attack on March 11, 1968. Despite having no combat training, Etchberger defended against the enemy with an M-16 rifle while coordinating air strikes and requesting air rescue.

Etchberger repeatedly risked his life by leaving his secure position to assist three wounded technicians into helicopter slings during enemy fire. After ensuring his remaining crew members were safely aboard, Etchberger himself entered the rescue sling. However, Etchberger was tragically and fatally wounded by enemy ground fire as the helicopter departed from the mountain.

Etchberger was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross for his heroism and sacrifice, but the operation remained classified, which meant the acknowledgment of his award didn't occur publicly until 1998. Following the declassification of Lima Site 85 and a reassessment of his actions, Etchberger was honored with the Medal of Honor in 2010.

Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger was one of the most highly trained radar technicians in the U.S. Air Force; more importantly, he was a highly effective and well-respected leader who acted decisively to protect his team before himself.

"The Air Force's mission is so consequential that we can never afford to have a bad day,” said Gary Boyd, AETC historian. “Every good day depends on the proactive engagement of each Airman, ready to step in when needed.”