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Air Force Brigadier on MISSION to honor Late Desert Storm Pilot

A Desert Storm Pilot is the focus of a Medal of Honor Campaign and leading the way is Air Force Brigadier General Jim Demarest. Here’s more:

The Medal of Honor is conferred only upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty:
—While engaged in action against an enemy of the United States;
—While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
—While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

There is an unsung hero of the war in Kuwait. A U.S. Air Force fighter pilot drew enemy fire to protect a comrade who had parachuted out of his burning plane and paid for this dedication with his life. Despite being awarded a posthumous Silver Star, the depth of his valor has gone uninvestigated.

Until now.

Air Force Brigadier General Jim Demarest is on a mission to have the Medal of Honor awarded posthumously to U.S. Air Force Capt. Stephen R. Phillis, a fighter pilot who was killed in action when his plane was shot down in Desert Storm.

No member of the military during Desert Storm has been awarded the Medal of Honor, and the last time an Air Force pilot was decorated with the medal was during the Vietnam War. Demarest remains undaunted. A former U.S. Air Force Academy boxing buddy of Phillis, Demarest is on a campaign to have his friend’s valor recognized.

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On February 15, 1991, A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots Phillis and 1st Lt. Rob Sweet flew together for the 30th time. The A-10 is the U.S. Air Force’s primary low-altitude close air support aircraft—best known for the 30mm Gatling gun mounted on the nose designed to fire armor-piercing depleted uranium and high explosive incendiary rounds. The pilots’ target was a massive formation of Iraqi armor in the deserts of Kuwait.

After making several successful passes, a surface-to-air missile (SAM) was fired at Sweet’s plane. He deployed flares to escape it. A second SAM hit him from behind, blowing off part of his wing and sending his plane into a steep spiral. Sweet ejected. When his parachute opened, he was dangling over the elite Iraqi armored division he had just finished bombing and strafing.

Phillis flew an orbit over the armored division to draw fire away from Sweet’s descent. He fired flares to draw the attention of the Iraqis, making his A-10 a target. An Iraqi SA-13 missile hit his plane, lighting it on fire. His plane crashed in the Kuwaiti sand. After U.S. forces liberated Kuwait, they found the wreckage of Phillis’ A-10 with his remains still inside.

Sweet was captured by the Iraqi military when he landed and became a POW for 19 days. It wasn’t until after his release that he learned that his wingman, Capt. Steve Phillis, was shot down while trying to save him.

Phillis received a Silver Star posthumously for his actions, but there was never a complete investigation. Believing there was more to Phillis’ story, in 1997, Demarest began an inquiry into what had transpired. He spent more than 20 years doing research, conducting interviews, and requesting records to piece together a timeline for the event. “No one took the time to analyze in detail what happened,” he says. Records prove that Phillis acted “above and beyond the call of duty.”

Phillis could have flown to safety; instead, he protected Sweet. Demarest says, “He stayed three minutes and 45 seconds. To a pilot, it is an eternity over a hostile enemy.”

JIM “BOOTS” DEMAREST
Jim “Boots” Demarest is a leadership and execution improvement expert. He spent 10 years as an active duty F-15 Fighter Pilot, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Fighter Weapons School “Top Gun” program. He served in Desert Storm as an F-15 pilot and currently serves in a leadership position in the Florida Air National Guard, he is a brigadier general. Jim graduated from Cornell Law School where he served as managing editor of the Cornell Law Review while specializing in Advocacy and International Law. He then spent nine years as a commercial litigation attorney and partner in a national law firm in Florida. In 2004 he launched his consulting career, and is the founder of Vectorpoint and Joint Force Leadership (www.jointforceleadership.com), both full service leadership and consulting companies. Boots is a sought after speaker on topics including leadership, strategic and tactical planning, and execution improvement. He has been a professional speaker since 2002, and has worked with NFL Teams, Fortune 500 and Global 2,000 organizations, and established companies and teams in the finance, healthcare, pharmaceutical, sales, legal, consumer products, banking, medical devices, and technology industries.

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