Lt. Colonel Dan Hampton, a highly decorated F-16 fighter pilots, shares his story in his book "Viper Pilot: A Memoir of Air Combat," just released this month. In the new age of the UAV drones, people like Hampton may be the last of the aviators who have personally faced air combat.
Hampton, 48, was a member of the elite Wild Weasels, the first planes sent into a conflict, which are recognized as the most dangerous in modern air combat.
On 9/11 Hampton took to the skies and played a crucial role in closing America's airspace, and even personally escorted a Delta flight to the ground. He recounts stories from Iraq of saving U.S. ground soldiers from certain death, of evading heat-seeking missiles that locked on his tail, and of being wounded in a terrorist attack. The Wild Weasels mission was to take out surface-to-air missile sites. Having initiated the 2003 Iraq invasion and bombing Saddam Hussein's suspected hide-out, he writes about his role in the Iraq War, Kosovo conflict and first Gulf War.
"It was time for this story," Hampton said. "No grand designs or philosophical fluff - just an honest view of life and war from one fighter cockpit."
Hampton, who visits the Bookworm of Edwards Thursday evening, took the time to answer a few questions for the Vail Daily.
Vail Daily: What made you want to write this book, Dan?
Dan Hampton: To reveal a bit of what has been done in the past 20 years for our country (not just by me) and to give folks a glimpse into a world that they might not see otherwise.
VD: What was the hardest part about writing the book?
DH: Reliving parts of it. During these incidents, I just reacted. Instinct takes over and you do what you must to survive. Afterwards, however, when you're back on the ground and safe, it all sinks in. Most pilots compartmentalize things like this and the memories are best left alone. Purposely bringing them back out was tough.
VD: What did you receive your Purple Heart for?
DH: Khobar Towers was destroyed on June 25, 1996 by Hezbollah terrorists with a truckload (20,000 pounds) of TNT. Nineteen Americans were killed and thousands, like me, wounded.
VD: Tell me about a time you write about in the book where you were the most scared for your life?
DH: Valley of the Shadow. I was sent down under the clouds to scout out Iraqi troop movements and ended up on top of a Republican Guards Division that was moving out of Baghdad to counterattack. So 15,000 angry Iraqis opened up with everything they had to knock me down. It was a very hairy three minutes ... I used all my countermeasures and had all my towed decoys shot away. I didn't think I'd survive that one.
VD: Tell me about your journey to become a fighter pilot. How did you know that's what you wanted to do?
DH: I didn't know until my second year in college - I wanted to be an architect. Something in me wanted a bigger challenge and the thrill of accomplishing something really difficult.
VD: Is there anything in this book you hesitated to include? If so why?
DH: Anything that sounds self congratulatory - there were other fighter pilots out there, I just happened to write it down. I was uncomfortable 're-living' the Nasiryah and Valley of the Shadow missions .... they were bad.