AT SEA ABOARD USS RONALD REAGAN IN THE PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Steve "Cinco" Ritchie, USAF, America's last combat pilot ace, flew off the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan 19 Oct. as the ship sailed home on Tiger Cruise, the last leg of its 2009 deployment.
Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Steve "Cinco" Ritchie, USAF, 67, a distinguished guest of the ship who shot down five North Vietnamese MiG-21 fighter jets in the Vietnam War in 1972, experienced a backseat familiarization flight in an F/A-18F of the "Fighting Redcocks" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 22.
"The flight was absolutely amazing," said Ritchie of the familiarization mission. "That aircraft performs better than anything I've ever flown in. The Navy impressed me a great deal."
The American aviation legend, a recipient of the Air Force Cross, four Silver Stars and 10 Distinguished Flying Crosses for heroism against the enemy, added that he was incredibly impressed with Ronald Reagan and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 14 Sailors.
"I am so proud of these men and women serving today," said Ritchie. "They are doing a job that I believe is more important than it has ever been in all of history."
During the Tiger Cruise, the Fighting Redcocks, who "adopted" Ritchie as their guest, had a chance to discuss the advancements in military aviation from the 1970s to today and pick the brain of an air-to-air combat legend.
"It was a complete honor to fly with a combat ace," said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Hodges, VFA-22's operations officer. "Flying with the General was a humbling experience."
The Tiger Cruise, a Navy tradition, allowed more than 850 friends, parents, grandparents and siblings of Ronald Reagan and CVW-14 Sailors to embark the ship as it sailed from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to the ship's homeport of San Diego. For Ritchie, the opportunity to be a Tiger onboard the ship bearing the name of Ronald Reagan was a supreme honor, as he served in Reagan's administration.
"He was the greatest man I ever knew. I miss him like I miss my own father," Ritchie said.
The squadrons of CVW-14 include the "Fist of the Fleet" of VFA-25, the "Stingers" of VFA-113, the "Eagles" of VFA-115, the "Black Eagles" of Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 113, the "Cougars" of Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VAQ) 139, the "Providers" of Carrier Logistics Support (VRC) 30, and the "Black Knights" of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 4.
After Tiger Cruise, the massive, 97,000-ton supercarrier is slated to arrive in San Diego after its fourth deployment in four years. The ship is named after the 40th U.S. president, and carries the motto of "Peace through Strength," a recurrent theme during the Reagan presidency.
For more news from USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) - Ronald Reagan Strike Group, visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn76/.