Shaw Captain is AF's Best Fighter Tactician

Capt. Mike Richard, 20th Operations Support Squadron, boards an F-16 Fighting Falcon at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C
Capt. Mike Richard, 20th Operations Support Squadron, finishes pre-flight preparations on an F-16 Fighting Falcon before taking flight from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C

Every year the Air Force spotlights the most outstanding fighter tactician from the combat air forces. The search combs through hundreds of pilots from four major commands, the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.

For 2011, the Air Force's outstanding tactician isn't a general, a colonel, a lieutenant colonel or even a major. He's a captain from the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.: Mike Richard, 20th Operations Support Squadron, the wing's chief of weapons and tactics.

Richard recently learned that he has earned the Lt. Gen. Claire Chennault Award, an annual honor sponsored by the Air Force Association. Chennault was commander of the famed "Flying Tigers" in World War II, whose innovative tactics made him victor in the air and a legend among aviators.

His job is to prepare the 20th Operations Group's 157 pilots with the tactics they need to succeed in the wing's various roles: suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses; offensive and defensive counter-air and counter-land or counter-sea; and interdiction.

"Tactics," says Webster's Dictionary, means, "the science and art of disposing and maneuvering forces in combat; the art or skill of employing available means to accomplish an end;" and, "a system or mode of procedure."

In real life, it means how to use the Lockheed-Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, or "Viper," its capabilities, systems and weapons to win in combat.

According to former 20th FW commander, Col. Charlie Moore, the 20th is the largest F-16 combat wing in the U.S. Air Force. It is the only defense suppression wing in the continental United States. Moore also said the 20th was the most-heavily tasked in the Air Force last year, and flew more than 21,000 hours.

Such is the scope of Richard's responsibilities:

· Prepping two fighter squadrons for combat operations, the only USAF fighters supporting Operation Unified Protector;

· Serving as the first F-16 liaison officer during the transition in operations from U.S. Air Forces in Europe to NATO, where he wrote special instructions, air tasking and coordination orders;

· Leading the destruction of 101 surface-to-air missiles, 120 radars, 83 missile command vehicles and 120 air defense artillery guns in Operation Odyssey Dawn, the NATO action against Libya;

· Planning a mission combining 20 NATO land- and sea-based strike aircraft and Tomahawk cruise missiles to destroy the Libyan regime's central military communication network; and

· Developing the air-to-ground missile tactics, techniques and procedures in the area of responsibility, including establishing the rules of engagement to preclude "friendly fire" incidents, resulting in zero friendlies or neutrals being targeted.

Richard's squadron commander, Lt. Col. Scott Shepard, said that when he was notified of the award, "I said to myself, 'I'm happy to see this selection board get the pick right!' Bait (Richard's call sign) did more to contribute to the success of what the coalition force did in Libya than any other Airman in fighter aviation and I'm thrilled to see he was properly recognized for his skill and effort."

Shepard went on, "Bait has dedicated the past eight years of his life to become a master at his profession. No one has worked harder to become an expert of his weapons, our tactics and that of our enemy. He is unusually good at his profession because he has studied the Art of War like it was an PhD program, and he is the best of the best because of incredibly long hours of study and hard work.

Combat planning, flying, communicating, training, coordinating, and being a husband and father. How does he pack so much into every day? "Lots of caffeine and an awesome family," the captain quipped. He and his wife Jessica have a two-year-old son, Benjamin.

But, "Every pilot learns to multi-task," Richard said. "The key is to know what is critical at any given time and perform that task at a world-class level."

His superiors frequently cited in his nomination the "world-class level" performance the captain mentioned.

His portfolio boasts four combat tours and 500 combat hours in his 1,400 total F-16 hours. His most memorable sorties? "Blowing up a vehicle borne improvised explosive device on my first combat mission, a local area orientation sortie in Iraq during the surge of 2007," he recalled. "Also, flying the last F-16 combat sortie of Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 55th Fighter Squadron in 2010."

Where does he draw his inspiration? From his Air Force father, Richard replied. "My dad was an A-10 (Warthog) pilot. My dad inspired me by finding the balance between work, play and family."

As a family man, Richard also knows the pain of separation from family demanded by duty. On his son's first birthday, he was flying a sortie over Iraq.

For his achievements, his name will appear permanently on a display in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

The captain earned his commission through Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at Notre Dame University in 2002. Shaw is the major selectee's fourth assignment since graduating from training. Before Shaw came Misawa Air Base, Japan; Kunsan AB, Korea, and Nellis AFB, Nev.

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