Top flight: Etchberger display, award to be unveiled



by Kimberly L. Wright
Air University Public Affairs


3/4/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger's ultimate example of service before self will take center stage next week, reported Master Sgt. Christy Caskey, flight instructor of the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy.

The Etchberger Team Award dedication ceremony will take place in the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy west auditorium at 8 a.m. Thursday. The event honors the late Medal of Honor recipient, who was awarded the nation's highest military honor in September 2010, with the unveiling of a marble plaque and photographic display.

The following day, at the Senior NCO Academy graduation, the inaugural award will be presented to the best team as tabulated by a weighted grade that includes academics, physical fitness and community involvement.

The timing of these events coincides with Chief Etchberger's final mission. The Etchberger Award will be presented to the top graduating Senior NCO Academy flight at the graduation March 11, 43 years to the day the chief was killed in action in 1968 while defending and helping evacuate Lima Site-85, a top-secret U.S. radar installation under siege in Laos.

The coincidental presentation happened quite by accident.

"We didn't know that when we planned it at all," said retired Col. Joe Panza, Air University Foundation executive director, who served with Chief Etchberger on that mission and, along with Senior NCO Academy personnel, helped create the enlisted award in recognition of the chief's sacrifice.

"I felt compelled to do something to honor his name and what better way to that than by establishing an award," Mr. Panza said.

The Etchberger Award was created in the same spirit as the Levitow Award, which recognizes the top graduate in the Senior NCO Academy in tribute to Medal of Honor recipient Airman 1st Class John Levitow. Rather than heralding an individual's achievement, the Etchberger Award focuses on acknowledging a superior flight.

"When I proposed the establishment of the Etchberger Award to Chief Master Sgt. Alex Perry, he and his people decided it would be a perfect opportunity to recognize the achievements of a team rather than make another individual award," said Mr. Panza.
Each member of the top flight will receive a three-inch medallion - on one side a depiction of the gallant action of Chief Etchberger, on the other side, a likeness of the chief. Each medallion will be encased in a rosewood box inscribed with the logos of the Senior NCO Aacademy and Etchberger Award.

The perpetual plaque to be unveiled Thursday will remain at the academy.
Mr. Panza reports that Chief Etchberger's family will not be able to attend either ceremony, as they will be in Washington, D.C., for a Chief Etchberger name unveiling ceremony at Air Force Memorial. However, Mr. Panza noted that the family plans on attending the award's presentation for future classes.