F-15 pilot and Chief of Staff of the Florida Air National Guard, Brigadier Gen. Jim Demarest, is starting a campaign to award the Medal of Honor to the late Capt. Stephen Phillis.
Jim met Stephen Phillis at the academy. Together, they shared a bond over boxing, both being left-handed- or southpaws.
“Steve and I trained a lot together,” explains Demarest to Fox 4 Now. “He ended up being my corner man in a championship bout in about 1980 and that started a friendship that went a bit of a different way. We both went to pilot training. Steve decided he wanted to fly the A-10, I elected to fly the F-15 and so our aviation career paths diverged. Yet, we shared a lot of common experiences in pilot training and the fighter weapons school. Then Steve was activated in August 1990 to kick off Desert Shield and later served in Desert Storm.”
According to Demarest Steve Phillis and his brand new wingman Lt. Rob Sweet were tasked with attacking Saddam Hussein’s elite Republican Guards Division on Feb. 15, 1991. After making several successful passes, a surface-to-air missile (SAM) was fired at Sweet’s A-10. He deployed flares to escape it. He was hit by a second SAM that blew off part of his wing and sent his plane into a steep spiral. Sweet ejected and when his parachute opened, he was left dangling over the elite Iraqi armored division he had just finished bombing. To draw fire away from Sweet’s descent, Steve flew an orbit over the Republican Guard Division. To draw attention he fired flares, making his A-10 a target. It was at that moment he knew he was not coming back.
“He keys the microphone and using the codeword for the day, transmits ‘Enfield 3-7 is bagged as well,'” says Demarest. “And it’s the last radio transmission he makes, unbeknownst to his family, his fiancée, his friends, his fellow fighter pilots. Moments later he is engaged, shot down and killed by another Iraqi surface-to-air missile system.”
In that moment, “He didn’t have to stay there,” said Demarest. “He didn’t have to drop flares and make himself a target. He didn’t have to stand over those 10,000 angry troops now emboldened by their success. Yet, the thought of leaving, never crossed his mind.”
Steve Phillis decided to put his wingman’s life before his own. His last act being that of heroism.
“When you look at bravery above and beyond the call of duty, to save a fellow airman, to me- that checks all the boxes that we look for in our Medal of Honor recipients,” Demarest remarks.
The last time a pilot was decorated with the Medal of Honor (the highest and most prestigious military decoration that can be awarded) was during the Vietnam War.
“So far, there have been no Medals of Honor for any combat bravery for Desert Storm,” says Demarest. “I think it’s time for us to re-look at that and I can think of no more fitting case than that of Captain Steve Phillis.”
As Demarest explains in the following video, it’s a mission that Demarest has taken upon himself to see fulfilled. A mission with the hope that Steve’s story lives on.
“We’re going to start with a grassroots campaign and see where it goes,” says Demarest. “But I have high hopes that, as the word of his heroics get out, that it will get interest from a lot of different outlets and different forms of media to help get the story out to the millions of people who need to hear it.”
Demarest is currently working to publish Steve’s story into a book. You can learn more about his project by visiting his website right here.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force