DESERT STORM - a mere 20 years ago

  • Published
  • By Charles "JR" Foster
  • 33rd Fighter Wing Historian
If I were at my desk 20 years ago, I'd be recording the most victorious aerial combat my unit engaged in as the dog fights set fire through the clouds thousands of miles away.

Instead, I reminisce with heroic pilots of yesteryear who have come back to the 33rd Fighter Wing for Nomad reunions, discussing the successful enemy MiG kills play-by-play using their hands to show the twists and dives their F-15 took at war's front line.

The Nomads' participation in Operation DESERT SHIELD began in late August 1990 when 24 F-15Cs and 769 personnel departed Eglin for King Faisal Air Base in Northwestern Saudi Arabia.

While recording 5,000 flight hours in over 1,700 training sorties in their first four months overseas, Iraq invaded Kuwait to annex its rich oil reserves. President George Bush immediately ordered ground, sea and air forces to Southwest Asia as part of a multinational coalition to stabilize the region and persuade Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait.

Despite exhaustive diplomatic efforts, Saddam Hussein rejected all efforts for a peaceful withdrawal from Kuwait. In the early morning hours of Jan. 17, 1991, Operation DESERT STORM began with a surprise attack over Baghdad by numerous allied aircraft. Nomad crews launched their F-15Cs in two four-ship formations at midnight that day.

Their mission - clear the skies around Baghdad of enemy aircraft and open a "corridor" for a second allied strike force. At 3:10 a.m. local time, Captain Jon K. "J.B." Kelk scored the first aerial kill of the war destroying a Soviet-built MiG-29 with an AIM-7 missile. Shortly after this attack Capt. Robert E. "Cheese" Graeter downed two Iraqi Mirage F-1s for the second and third kills of the war. Later that day, Nomads continued to own the skies over Iraq when Capt. Rhory R. "Hozer" Draeger and Marine Capt. Charles J. "Sly" Magill, exchange officer, intercepted and destroyed two MiG-29s west of Baghdad.

Col. Rick N. Parsons shot down a SU-7 fighter on Feb. 7, 1991 which famed him as the only wing commander to record an aerial victory.

Their training in familiarization with the desert terrain with aircrews from the US Navy and Royal Saudi Air Force during DESERT SHIELD paid huge dividends.

In all, wing pilots scored the most combat kills of any allied unit during the Gulf War, 16 in total.

Other Nomad accomplishments included:

- Most combat sorties and hours for any F-15 squadron (1,182 and 7,000)
- Greatest number of pilots in one squadron with aerial victories (12)
- Most pilots from one squadron with multiple victories (four)
- Most MiG-29s destroyed in the air by any unit (five)
- Only Marine "MiG Killer" (Captain Magill, USMC Exchange Officer)
- First and only squadron to carry Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile
- No sorties lost for operations or maintenance reasons

Today, Nomads of the 33rd Fighter Wing carry on the honors of leading our nation's military and allied forces by example by being the first DoD schoolhouse to launch ready F-35 personnel to combat units. Since 2009, the wing has been preparing itself for its current mission - train Air Force, Marine, Navy and international partner pilots and maintainers of the F-35 Lightning II.

Nomad heritage proudly lives on with its new mission paving the way for America to once again send "fire from the clouds" from their newest fleet of military aircraft, sure to gain lethal victory over future air and ground threats to our world.