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USU ROTC Sends 9 New Air Force 2nd Lieutenants out to Fly-Fight-Win

Thursday, May. 19, 2016

Rich Etchberger presenting the Etchberger Scholar Award to Cadet Kajler Rask

Professor Rich Etchberger (right) presents the Etchberger Scholar Award to Cadet Kajler Rask, who is on track to be an Air Force pilot.

the 2016 Air Force ROTC officer commissioning ceremony at USU

Nine Air Force cadets graduating from Aerospace Studies in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences receive their commissions as 2nd lieutenants during the commissioning ceremony recently.

With a sharp military salute — and hug from mom — nine young men in Utah State University’s Air Force ROTC were commissioned as second lieutenants May 6.

All of the new officers have their orders and are headed to Air Force bases around the country, said Lt. Col. Alex Dubovik, professor and director of Aerospace Studies in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The newly commissioned officers’ undergraduate degrees come from across campus.

“We have someone majoring in almost every college,” said Dubovik.

The four-year ROTC program also awards each a minor in aerospace studies.

And their careers will be just as varied, Dubovik said. Three graduates are beginning their pilot’s track. Two of the graduates will use their engineering diplomas as development engineers, designing laboratory, research and experimental equipment.

Another has chosen Dubovik’s own specialty as an aircraft maintenance and logistics officer. Others will specialize in acquisitions, working with contractors to acquire weapons systems, as well as space and missile operations, which controls the ICBM and other missiles.

One young officer will work with NASA in the military space operations program, which oversees U.S. satellites.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: The Air Force launches and maintains the satellites that provide the GPS signals we count on to hike down the mountain or find the nearest ice cream parlor, said Dubovik.

“Many people don’t realize that the GPS system is actually an Air Force system,” he said. “It’s in our budget to maintain, and it’s one of the major systems that the Air Force operates.”

Dubovik is expecting 11 seniors next year, although, he said, commissioning numbers vary. For instance, cadets often go on “nonattendance” status to complete a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Two of our freshmen women cadets will be going on LDS missions,” he said. “They’ll be gone for a couple of years, but they’ll be back.”

And speaking of women, the Air Force commissioned one woman last year as part of the USU ROTC program, and 2017 will see another female officer, a nurse.

But, he adds, “One of the exciting things this year is that our freshmen class has about 10 women.”

That number almost triples the number of women in the detachment, Dubovik said.

Chief Master Sergeant Etchberger Scholar Award Named

Among the ROTC awards and scholarships presented this spring was one in commemoration of the father of a popular professor at USU’s Vernal Education Center. Dr. Rich Etchberger is a professor of wildland resources and recipient of the prestigious Carnegie Professor of the Year award in 2015. He traveled to the Logan campus in early May to present the Etchberger Scholar award to Cadet Kajlee Rask.

The $500 scholarship, sponsored by the Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger Foundation, pays tribute to Etchberger’s father, who was shot and killed by an enemy soldier while on a classified mission to Laos in 1968.

Etchberger was age 9 when his father was shot down. But because the mission was secret, Etchberger and his family did not learn of the actual details until 2008 when the records were declassified. Etchberger mother, Catherine, died in 1994.

The older Etchberger was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor, the country’s highest award for valor in action. In that nighttime and hours-long scrimmage with North Vietnamese soldiers that killed 18 of his men, the chief master sergeant pulled four more to safety, only to be shot and killed as the rescue helicopter took off.

The Vernal professor accepted the award on behalf of his father in a ceremony with President Obama at the White House in 2010.

Etchberger and his two brothers launched the nonprofit foundation to watch over U.S. service members and “help out in small ways,” said Etchberger, in an interview from Pennsylvania, where he was presenting the dramatic events of that 1968 mission at high schools in his father’s home state.

Etchberger works with Lt. Col. Dubovik to choose a candidate for the award, now in its second year. The traits he looks for, he says, are leadership and unflinching responsibility to the soldiers under an officer’s command.

“The folks who serve our country are making sacrifices that we don’t see,” said Etchberger. “I’ve had first-hand knowledge of the sacrifices they make.

“That’s what the foundation is about — taking a situation where my dad made a tremendous sacrifice and helping other people.”

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Writer and contact: Janelle Hyatt, 435-797-0289,

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