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Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023

Col. Michael D. Maginness

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Air Force Commander Flying High

Everyone has a story.

Each edition, Tony Taglavore takes to lunch a local person – someone wellknown, influential or successful – and asks, “What’s Your Story?”

January 6, 2017.

It was a clear, cold morning – as in negative 30 degrees – in Minot, N.D.

“Just a beautiful day to fly,” remembers.

“Everything was great.” Until it wasn’t. Shortly after a 9 o’clock takeoff, the three-hour (supposed to be) routine training flight turned into anything but routine for the five-person B-52 crew. Col.

Maginness was in the left seat. He was the aircraft commander.

“Passing through 18,000 feet, the engine exploded,” Col. Maginness says with a matter-of-fact tone. “Part of it fell off, and the other part was hanging out there, swinging around. It was a little hairy. That was one of probably two times in my career I said, ‘Hmmm. I didn’t think I would be using the ejection seat today.’”

But Col. Maginness did not eject. He and his crew fought for and gained control of the bomber. They safely made their way back to base.

“It was a total team effort. If I hadn’t had that team, it could have easily turned out different.”

Maginness, recently named commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, tells me this harrowing story – and his personal story – between bites of a BLT sandwich, fries and swallows of Coke. I expected him to be dressed in all blue, with a dazzling color of medals decorating the left breast of his suit jacket. Instead, Col. Maginness looks like someone you would enjoy having a beer with. He appears relaxed in his olive-green flight suit.

Somehow, the man responsible for 15,000 men and women – along with 23,000 acres of base property – found time to give me an hour of his time over lunch – in a private room in the grille at Barksdale’s Bomber Bayou Golf Course.

“It’s an honor to do this mission for America. Quite frankly, no other nation in the world has the power that Barksdale has. It’s unparalleled in the history of warfare, the ability to reach out and touch anywhere in the world from Louisiana if we need to. That’s awesome.”

Looking back at his childhood, the fact Col. Maginness, who made his bones flying B-52s, took to the sky is not surprising.

“I always wanted to fly.

I have no idea why. Growing up, we would always go to the Wings Over Houston Airshow. That was up there with Christmas for me. I always loved being around the jets.”

Maginness was born in Pennsylvania but calls Texas home. Because of his father’s work, Maginness’ family moved south when he was 6 years old.

“We weren’t born in Texas, but we tell people we got there as fast as we could.”

One of two siblings (his older brother is retired from the U.S. Army and is now working with the U.S. Navy Special Tactics Development), Col. Maginness was in sixth grade when, by accident, he found his talent for music and – in particular – for playing the trombone.

“It was choose your instrument night, and I think they needed an extra (trombone) so they were like, ‘Here, you play this.’”

That night led to Col. Maginness playing in both his high school and college (Texas A&M) bands.

“Growing up in Texas, unless you’re 300 pounds, six-foot-five, and can run a 40 in 4.4, you’re probably not going to make the football team.”

Maginness did make the Aggies’ Corps of Cadets and planned to fly for the Navy.

“I’ve since come to my senses.” If you can’t tell by now, Col. Maginness has a dry sense of humor.

But in his junior year, when it was time to commit, the Navy and other military branches didn’t have many flying spots to offer. So, when Col. Maginness graduated, he went to Florida and began training to fly commercial aircraft. But the fire still burned – the fire to fly for his country.

“After four years as a cadet, I started asking, ‘Flying for who? Why?’ It was kind of the greater sense of purpose. 9/11 happened. It was a wake-up call that maybe there are more important things I should be doing right now, as opposed to what I want to be doing.”

One thing led to another, and Col. Maginness found a spot in the Air Force. But he quickly learned his idea of being in the military and the reality of being in the military were very different.

“It’s nothing like you think it will be.

… When you’re growing up, you think flying and you think you zip up your flight suit, you go out to the line, you go in the air, you crush a few enemy aircraft, come home and land as a hero. It’s really a hard, dirty, long business. The movies never show the eight hours of mission planning. They never show the harsh, long debriefs. They don’t show the months deployed. They don’t show the fact that for 22 years of doing this, you never have a normal schedule. There is no normal day. Some days you’re up at 4 a.m. for the morning flights. Some days you start work at 4 p.m. and you get home at 3 a.m. They tend not to focus on the difficulties with family life, especially when you have kids and you’re trying to be there for them as well.”

Speaking of family, the 45-year-old colonel and his wife, Amy, have been married for 17 years. But they knew each other long before tying the knot. The two met when he was 8 years old and she was 4 years old. Their families were friends, and everyone had mutual friends. Mrs. Maginness followed the man who would be her husband through the same elementary school, high school and college.

“We just tell people it was an arranged marriage.” Col. Maginness said with a laugh.

Maginness isn’t a stranger to Barksdale.

He was in Shreveport-Bossier most of the time from 2005-2013. Back then, their two children were very young. Now, David is 12-and-a-half, and Katie is 12. That means it’s almost like being here for the first time.

“We are seeing a whole new side of the town. We’re probably not going to Gators and Friends as much, but we are doing Sci-Port and middle school football games. My daughter dances, so she’s at one of the local dance studios. We’re seeing a very different side of the town.

Well into our visit, Col. Maginness’ cell phone rang. He looked at the caller ID and nodded for me to turn off my voice recorder. Not wanting to end up in the Air Force’s version of the brig, I quickly complied.

Maginness told the person calling he would get back to them in 10-15 minutes – I knew our time was coming to an end.

So, I asked my final question. As always, what is it about his life story that can influence others? Col. Maginness borrowed from Mike Rowe, host of the “Dirty Jobs” television series.

“He was giving a speech somewhere and had his three tenets to being invaluable to an organization. I use them every time I talk with our first-term airmen. It’s real easy. Show up early, stay late and volunteer when no one else does. You do that, and you will be invaluable to your organization. I do believe simple things like that matter.”

Soon after, we stood up and shook hands. I thanked the commander of one of the world’s most powerful Air Force bases for being so generous with his time. We walked out the door, with Col. Maginness going about the business of protecting you and me. I went about the business of writing his story, a freedom which Col. Maginness and the men and women of Barksdale fight for every day.

Do you know someone who has a story to tell? Contact editor@318forum.com.

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