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"This was my one big chance to be a part of something where I'm actually doing what I'm trained to do, and I actually turned down two opportunities to come home early" (Video Interview, 3:06)

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   Stephen Clay Baxter
Image of Stephen Clay Baxter
Stephen Baxter [2006]
War: Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, 2001-present
Branch: Air Force
Service Location: Iraq; United States
Rank: Major
Place of Birth: TX
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To help pay for college, Stephen Baxter enlisted in the Air Force Reserves in 1987. He spent two years waiting for an opportunity to train to become a navigator. After just missing the chance to participate in Operation Desert Storm, he did get to fly missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Stationed at Diego Garcia, a speck of an island in the Indian Ocean, Baxter had a long "commute" to and from his sorties over Iraq. His B-52 could stay in the air for many hours, thanks to mid-air refueling.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (7 clips)
»Complete Interview  (39 min.)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (7 items)
Description of B-52 bomber's missions; stationed on Diego Garcia, supposedly undisclosed location during the war; turned down two chances to come home early, because he liked what he was doing so much; enlisted in Air Force Reserves to earn money for college; father had been in the Air Force, and he wanted to fly. (02:44) Separated from reserves in August 1990; missed Desert Storm by a couple of months; had worked on planes in his reserve stint; his vision prevented him from becoming a pilot; during drawdown, opportunities for navigators disappeared, so he became an ICBM launch officer for two years until he could apply for navigator training. (02:44) First combat sortie in February 2003 in Afghanistan; while they were on the mission, they got news that the space shuttle Columbia had disintegrated; first time he employed weapon in anger was March over Iraq; flight from Diego Garcia to Iraq or Afghanistan is about 7 1/2 hours, "so you have plenty of time to think about what you're going to do", long flight back; considering the deaths he had just caused; on return from first mission, some crew were taking souvenirs from unused ordnance, but he didn't--he was the one who actually released the bombs. (05:24)
Refueling in mid-air on the way up, once in theater, once on the way back; B-52s once flew a sortie during Operation Desert Storm from the U.S. to Iraq and back--over 23 hours in the air. (01:39) Accommodations on Diego Garcia; first lived in dormitory-style buildings, then in a tent; did have air conditioning, but it was still roughing it; got to move into hard billets with real showers. (01:10) Combat cameraman on aircraft; everyone takes turns napping; he took a picture of Baxter sleeping with his eyes open, whites only showing. (03:59)
Encounters with Marines in a bar on Diego Garcia; crew was there to decompress after mission; Marine gave him a big bear hug in appreciation for the air cover the B-52s provided; war effort among branches of service is more coordinated now than in the past. (02:26)  
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  October 26, 2011
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