Thomas E. Griffith Jr. was the weapons system operator when his F-15E Strike Eagle was shot down during the early days of Operation DESERT STORM. After a successful ejection, then Major Griffith and his pilot Col. David Eberly evaded the Iraqi forces for two days until their capture. On 25 January 1991, CNN broadcast an Iraqi interview with Major Griffith and two others providing proof of life. Griffith was held as a POW until his release on 4 March 1991.
Influenced by his father, Griffith had ambitions to become an aviator. The path, as he saw it, was through the United States Air Force Academy. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Griffith graduated from Pope John High School and attended USAFA Prep School from 1974-1975. Graduating in 1979 from USAFA with a bachelor of Military History, Griffith was able to achieve his goal of a career in aviation by entering navigator training at Mathis AFB, California. Griffith was assigned to Homestead AFB, Florida, flying the F-4. Following the assignment at Homestead AFB, he continued to improve proficiency and tactics at each of his units to include Osan AB, Korea; Ramstein AB, Germany; and Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina.
While at Seymour Johnson AFB, Griffith transitioned to the new F-15E aircraft. He deployed as the weapons system operator for the F-15E as DESERT STORM began. On the fourth night of the war, Major Griffith’s F-15E was struck by an SA-2 surface-to-air missile forcing an ejection at 25,000 feet and 500 knots. Safely on the ground with the Colonel Eberly, Major Griffith was able to avoid detection and capture for days until they were captured near the Iraq-Syria border. Iraq eventually released Griffith when the war ended.
After the war, he returned to flying and led a highly successful career. He was a Distinguished Graduate from Air Command and Staff College and went on to earn a PhD in History from the University of North Carolina. Utilizing his PhD, Griffith served as the commandant of the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies. He also served in staff positions as the special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commander of the 39th Support Group, Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. He retired as a colonel 1 September 2008.