From the book: Business Aviation Leadership: From the Traits to the Trenches, by Christopher M. Broyhill, Ph.D., CAM

A Personal Reflection on Selflessness

The selfless behavior I’ve seen in the actions of the leaders in this book has given me great hope for our industry. Sadly, I haven’t seen much of it in the leadership of the organizations I’ve been a part of during my business aviation career. But admittedly, my perspective on selflessness, like any member of the military, past or present, is held to a somewhat lofty standard.

When I think of the true meaning of the word, selfless, my mind goes back to a classmate of mine from the Air Force Academy, Steve Phillis.

There’s a well-known verse from the Bible from the Book of John: Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13, NASB).

Steve Phillis exemplified that on February 15, 1991.

Steve, a graduate of the Air Force’s prestigious Fighter Weapons School, was leading a two-ship flight of A-10s looking for ground targets in northwest Iraq. His wingman was a young lieutenant named Rob Sweet. They found a truck convoy, and after verifying that the convoy was hostile, they rolled in and began to expend ordnance. During one of their passes on the convoy, Sweet’s aircraft was hit by ground fire, and he was forced to eject. Steve Phillis radioed the report of his wingman’s ejection into the flight’s controlling agency to begin a search and rescue operation to retrieve his wingman.

But then he noticed that Iraqi ground troops were closing in on Sweet’s location. Steve didn’t hesitate. He rolled in on the Iraqis multiple times and strafed them with the A-10’s 30mm cannon. On one of these passes, Steve’s jet was struck by a SA-13 surface-to-air missile. The explosion from the weapon is thought to have rendered him unconscious because his aircraft impacted the ground shortly thereafter with no attempt by Steve to eject. He was 30 years old.

Often, it is in the moments where we make unconscious choices that our true natures are manifested. Steve Phyllis could have orbited, he could have waited for more aircraft to arrive, or he could have been more conservative in his choice of weapons or tactics. Instead, thinking only of his wingman’s fate at the hands of the Iraqis and not thinking of himself, he immediately attacked and lost his life in defense of his wingman.

Like the leaders in this book, Steve’s first, instinctive thought was not for himself; it was for others. Would that we could all do the same.

Broyhill, C.M. (2020). Business Aviation Leadership: From the Traits to the Trenches. Dover, DE: Citadel Publishing, LLC. (pp. 202 - 204) For more details, click here.