General Charles A. “Chuck” Horner commanded all US and allied air assets during Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. He led a devastating air war against Iraq that allowed the coalition ground forces to achieve their objectives in just 100 hours of fighting.
Born in Davenport, Iowa in 1936, Horner graduated from high school in Des Moines, and enrolled in the University of Iowa in 1954. Even as a young man, Horner wanted to fly jets, and the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Iowa was his ticket to the United States Air Force and flight school. He earned his degree and a commission in 1958 and then completed flight training at Spence Air Force Base (AFB), Georgia, and Laredo AFB, Texas. He was awarded pilot wings in late 1959, and after combat crew training in the North American F-100 Super Sabre, joined the 492d Tactical Fighter Squadron in England. Three years later, he transitioned to the Republic F-105 Thunderchief “Thud” and served in the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina.
After suffering the loss of his parents, his sister, her husband, and their three children in a tragic car accident, Horner volunteered for combat duty in Southeast Asia. He flew 41 missions in the Thud as a member of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Korat Air Base, Thailand. After six months, he returned to the US and served as an F-105 instructor pilot at Nellis AFB, Nevada. In May 1967, Horner returned to Korat, to again fly the Thud. He flew 70 missions as a “Wild Weasel,” attacking enemy surface-to-air missile sites. In September, after completing his combat tour, Horner was reassigned to Nellis AFB as an instructor and then liaison officer at the Air Force Tactical Fighter Weapons School. Between October 1969 and August 1975, he served on the staffs of Tactical Air Command Headquarters and Headquarters, United States Air Force, and thereafter attended the National War College. He went on to lead two tactical fighter wings, two air divisions, and the Air Defense Weapons Center. In March 1987, Horner took command of the Ninth Air Force and U.S. Central Command Air Forces.
On August 3, 1990, Horner was flying an F-16 to Virginia when he was recalled with the news that Iraq had invaded Kuwait. He accompanied General Norman Schwarzkopf to brief President Bush on the situation and then continued to Saudi Arabia. Horner led all air operations in Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. During Operation DESERT STORM, people around the world came to know Horner and his wry commentaries during daily press briefings. After the Gulf War, he pinned on his fourth star and completed a distinguished career by leading the North American Aerospace Defense Command, United States Space Command, and Air Force Space Command. He retired in 1994 with over 5,300 flying hours.
When the news of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iraq reached General Horner, he was doing what he loved most, savoring the joy and freedom of flight in the Lady Ashley, his Block 25 F-16C. He soon traded the cockpit for the Tactical Air Command Center at Riyadh Air Base, Saudi Arabia and led the coalition air campaign against Iraq during Operation DESERT STORM.