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476th Fighter Group deputy commander recalls lessons learned as POW

A line up of the A-10s that operated during Operation Desert Storm.

Courtesy Photo

Sweet was a prisoner of war for 19 days.

Courtesy Photo

Map.

Map of the area Sweet was shot down.

Ejection seat.

Lt. Col. Rob Sweet ejected out of his A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft when he was shot down during his 30th mission in Desert Storm on Feb. 15, 1991. After Sweet returned, he was given his recovered ejection seat which now sits at his home office in Valdosta, Ga. (US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Taylor Davis)

Photo of returning Sweet.

Courtesy Photo

Sweet looks at his memorabilia.

Lt. Col. Rob Sweet stares at his prisoner of war memorabilia in his home office January 28, 2019, in Valdosta, Ga. Sweet was shot down and captured on Feb. 15, 1991, for 19 days during Operation Desert Storm. (US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Taylor Davis)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --

“I said goodbye to myself because I thought I was a dead man.”

As a young first lieutenant, Lt. Col. Rob “Sweetness” Sweet, never thought he’d have to live a nightmare. But that’s just what happened when Sweet, now the deputy commander of the 476th Fighter Group at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, became a prisoner of war in 1991.

On his 30th mission in Desert Storm, enemy forces shot down his A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft, southwest of Basra, Iraq, Sweet said. He then spent 19 days as an Iraqi prisoner. During this time, he experienced beatings, fought off diseases and dealt with emotional and mental torment.

Thanks to a prisoner exchange effort, Sweet and many others returned back to America. Sadly, everyone didn’t make it back. Capt. Stephen R. Phillis, “C” flight commander with the 353rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, acting as flight lead on the mission with Sweet, was killed in action.

With the memory of Phillis and about two months of recovery, Sweet started flying once again. Knowing Phillis would’ve completed at least 20 years, Sweet made it his goal to do the same.

“I was not without psychological problems afterwards,” said Sweet. “I had some survivor’s guilt and it took me a long time to get over myself.”
Crediting his faith and training for his survival during capture, Sweet had to learn how to live again. From his experience, Sweet said he learned the importance of “work hard, play hard”. Not taking himself and life too seriously has helped him get to where he is today.

With twenty years on active duty and currently a reservist, Sweet has had a long career. The most fulfilling part being his experience as a squadron commander. In that capacity, Sweet helped train young fighter pilots and teach them what it means to be a leader and make good decisions under pressure.

“You have to find it [motivation] for yourself,” said Sweet. “Find a leader you want to emulate and do that. There’s fundamentals people need to have in order to be a good leader, of course. One thing is to lead by example and from the front. Secondly, a leader should take all the blame and none of the credit.”

As he continues his journey in the reserves, his advice to anyone in the military is to take every experience day by day.

“Bloom where you’re planted,” said Sweet. “You’re going to have assignments you don’t like but make the most of it and move on.”