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To Sly: Our Own Desert Hero

Explorer C
In the summer of 1989, I began my journey as a U.S. Air Force Fighter Pilot flying one of the most amazing aircraft ever built—the McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagle.  I began my career stationed with the 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing and the 58th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS).  While with these squadrons, I had the distinct pleasure and honor of serving with Captain Chuck “Sly” Magill. 

Sly was my new flight commander and as a 2nd Lieutenant, your flight commanders were your role models.  Sly was on loan from the United States Marine Corps assigned to the 58th TFS as our Marine Exchange Pilot.  The Marine Exchange Pilot Program dates back to the Korean War, and the 58th has hosted the Marine Exchange Pilot ever since.  
I felt privileged to be a part of a flight under Chuck’s guidance and experience.  Chuck helped me progress as a brand new wingman in the squadron and taught me (along with many other talented Instructor Pilots, all of whom fly for Southwest Airlines) and prepared me to be the best Fighter Pilot I could be.  All of that paid off on Aug. 1, 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait.  The 58th TFS was the “Alpha” Squadron at the time (it rotated among three squadrons at Eglin), and we were the ones chosen to deploy to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Shield.  Chuck selected me as his welded wingman, and we flew all of our missions together during Desert Shield/Storm.

Well, that quick history leads me to another historic moment for Chuck.  This week, the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation celebrated "100 Years of Marine Corps Aviation" in San Diego.  In first-class Marine fashion, the foundation honored a hero from each war/conflict starting with World War II and on through Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and finally, the current War on Terror.  The designation of "hero" is held in the highest esteem, and our own Chuck Magill has been selected as the Desert Storm hero-representative for being a Marine/Air Force F-15 exchange Mission Commander during the war (a HUGE responsibility in itself).  In fact, one of the missions ended in Chuck shooting down an MiG-29 (the most advanced Soviet-made fighter at that time) while leading the Air Force’s First Daylight Mission of the War. 
Chuck (middle) and other Honorees
Sly is way too humble to share this story, so I wanted to share how our engagement went on Jan. 17, 1991.  Operation Desert Storm kicked off in the wee hours that morning with many of our squadron mates flying those first missions into Iraq.  The opportunity for our first combat mission was during the daytime.  Our mission was to take 16 F-15Cs, and fly in advance of a large strike package (of F-16s and F-111s) that were ordered to attack two separate airfields in south and central Iraq (south and west of Baghdad—Al-Taqqadum and Al-Asad airfields).  Sly, or Zerex 71 (our actual call sign that day) was the overall air-to-air mission commander responsible for the planning and execution of the pre-strike sweep (our mission), and the detached escort mission flown by four F-15Cs from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. 

That day, Captain Magill and Captain Rhory Draeger, Zerex 73, were both credited with two aerial victories.  The 58th TFS would go on to claim 16 aerial victories during Operation Desert Storm and we have four of those Pilots among us here at Southwest (Captain Rob “Cheese” Graeter, First Officer Craig “Mole” Underhill, First Officer Larry “Cherry” Pitts, and First Officer Tony “ET” Murphy).  Another amazing miracle to the story is while all of this was happening, Chuck’s daughter, was being welcomed into the world.  
Chuck With Daughter
Chuck meets his daughter for the first time
I am so very proud to have served with these great aviators, and it is so very deserving that Sly should receive the Marine’s award for his accomplishment during Desert Storm.  Sly and I went on to fly many, many more combat missions after that first day and I am proud to have flown as his wingman.
I hope we can tell this tale more vividly to others someday before he and I both forget what we had for breakfast that morning.  We have so many talented aviators here at Southwest, and I am proud to be considered one of them.  I can tell you with 110 percent certainty that Chuck is a true Southwest Leader and humble beyond reproach.  As our VP of Flight Operations, Chuck is the very visible end of many choices that have long range effects on the careers of us as Southwest Pilots, and I can speak very honestly and openly that there is no finer leader and no one that cares more for this Company or we as Pilots than Sly.
On a side note, I would also like to take this opportunity to remember Rhory Draeger, Zerex 73, who we tragically lost in a car accident so many years ago.  He will never be forgotten. 
Zerex 72
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