Wilson recalls ROTC days, missions in Iraq

When our country needed him, he answered the call. On April 8, 2003, Col. Ronald Wilson and his wingman climbed into an A-10 Thunderbolt, flew into southeast Baghdad and changed not only his life, but the course of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His mi...

When our country needed him, he answered the call.

On April 8, 2003, Col. Ronald Wilson and his wingman climbed into an A-10 Thunderbolt, flew into southeast Baghdad and changed not only his life, but the course of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

His mission that morning was to save 75 Marines in Iraq. He was prepared, thanks in part to his training at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. His plane was the first into the action that day.

That mission was successful not only for rescuing the Army soldiers and Marines, but also for setting a course for a conflict that would last for years.

Wilson flew countless missions during his time in the armed forces but that was one he will never forget. As the enemy was trying to knock him and his comrades out of the air, the former Yellowjacket carried out the mission planned. His crew managed to attack two buses of Republican Guard soldiers and their famous pass was caught by a TV video camera, which was featured on CNN. The first building that they targeted was the information ministry building.


The statue of Saddam Hussein was torn down that day and their A-10s were the only planes able to go into that mission due to the low cloud ceilings. Of the 30 pilots in the unit, 12 received Distinguished Flying Cross Awards for their actions during that mission and Wilson was one of them. His plane wasn't hit that mission, but enemy fire came "very, very close," he said. Some of the other pilots behind him that day weren't as lucky and were damaged or disabled.

"It was exciting for me; it's something you train for all of your life. It's like a practice for a football game and I got to practice my skills. It was exciting and scary all of the same time," Wilson said.

Wilson was an ROTC student while in Superior and that set a course for military service that continues today. When he finished high school in 1978 in Elkhart Lake, Wis., only two UW schools offered ROTC at the college level -- UW-Madison and UW-Superior.

He came from a small high school and thought the fit in Superior was perfect. He was also an athlete in high school and as a freshman, he was able to compete for the UWS cross-country, and track and field teams as well. He graduated from UW-Superior in 1982 and has fond memories of his time on campus.

"We started with almost 100 cadets my freshman class," Wisconsin said. "The ROTC program at UWS was a really big, strong program back in time. We had the Arnold Air Society also here on campus and the national headquarters was at UWS."

His daughter Gabrielle has also embraced military life, and she became the national commander of the Arnold Air Society. As a maintenance officer, she went on to win numerous awards and accolades, and is now in the Air Force stationed at Ramstein Air Force base with the 86th as an officer on a C-130. Wilson has two other children. Landon Wilson works in Kalamazoo, Mich., and daughter Tallison is a sophomore in high school.

Wilson is commander of the 110th Airlift Wing, W.K. Kellogg Air National Guard Base, in Battle Creek, Mich. He commands about 1,000 personnel where his responsibilities include oversight of four groups and a tenant unit. The 110th Airlift Wing has 224 full-time technicians and Active Guard Reservists; drill status manning is 674 personnel.

Colonel Wilson has earned over 25 military awards and honors and has experienced a variety of assignments during his deployment. At one point, he was selected as one of 16 pilots and eight planes to go to a remote Iraqi abandoned air base. It marked the first time since World War II that the U.S. Air Force occupied enemy territory.


"We stayed at an old ops bombed-out building, with no running water in it and slept on cots ... it was very unique, Wilson said"

Honduras, Kosovo and Hungary were just some of the other deployments during his time in the reserves and active duty. One of group names he was associated with was called the Killer-Bees --coincidentally, a name UWS had at the time affiliated with its football team.

Recently UW-Superior was named a military friendly school for the fourth straight year by G.I. Jobs Magazine and Col. Wilson was glad to see the school is again making the connection with the military. Wilson said veterans are treated much better now than following previous conflicts, and he is glad to see the educational benefits for veterans returning to school.

"Some states like Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio have 100 percent tuition paid for from the Guard. We don't do that in Michigan and we are trying to do that," Wilson said. "The education is just one way to help them out, and I think that is important. And a lot of the businesses are interested in hiring veterans and I think that is important as well."

Wilson says it's an advantage for businesses to hire veterans, knowing they are well trained.

The former Yellowjacket athlete used his experience as a pilot flying a Boeing 777 internationally for American Airlines out of Chicago. He does that part-time now because of his full-time Wing Commander commitment. He also served on the local fire department as an EMT and firefighter for 20 years and did some high school and junior high coaching in cross-country and track.

Following graduation from UW-Superior in 1982, he entered the Air Force in April 1983 after receiving his commission from the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He has served eight years active duty and more than 22 years in the Air National Guard.

What To Read Next
Get Local