By Darl DeVault
As the first free Tinker AFB Air Show in four years, June 1-2, allows civilians to glimpse our nation’s most sophisticated airplanes that provide us with worldwide air dominance, we are reminded of an important milestone. The brave and hard-working men and women of our United States Air Force have provided 70 years of dominance in the skies above our ground troops worldwide.
Historians tell us April 15, 1953, was the last time an American ground troop was killed by ordnance delivered from an enemy aircraft.
A highly decorated retired Vietnam air ace from that conflict, the only one with six MIG kills, Col. Charles “Chuck” DeBellevue, a weapons system officer and later a pilot, often speaks to that concept. He always points out in his public speaking the importance of every servicemember in keeping that streak alive.
“Airpower has always been key to keeping this country free and to ensure that American ground forces are not attacked by enemy aircraft,” DeBellevue said in an interview.
Living in Edmond, Oklahoma now, DeBellevue, 77, often talks about how grateful he was for the exacting and powerful support his fellow flight crewmembers and groundcrew provided. He says he was always confident when he took off in his F4 Phantom II from Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand to patrol the skies above North Vietnam in 1972.
“The Team was focused, from the missile maintenance crews that loaded the jets to the crew chiefs that got the jets ready to the supply and fuel crews that made sure that the parts and fuel arrived on time to the cook who had breakfast ready at 4:30 a.m. It was a solid team,” DeBellevue said. “They put the confidence in the jet and our mission.”
DeBellevue averages 40 speaking dates a year around the country. He shares the explicit message of the importance of recruiting brilliant young people to a highly professional USAF performing a vital national security function.
“We need our best and brightest serving in the military. The results will pay dividends. In addition, it is a way for them to pay back this country for the benefits provided to us,” DeBellevue said. “The future of this country depends on what we do today.”
As the last air ace to serve on active duty, DeBellevue is well aware that air superiority is expensive and commends our nation’s taxpayers for their continued support. Aircraft are expensive to design, build, and operate. DeBellevue says he is proud of the work done at Tinker AFB because high-quality aircraft maintenance is critical in allowing our highly trained USAF pilots to be ready to defend our country.