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Lt. Cmdr. Smith

Wofford in the military: Lt. Cmdr. Travis Smith '97

One last flight

Lt. Cmdr. Travis Smith ’97 (right), a Coast Guard pilot stationed at the Naval Air Station Joint Readiness Base in New Orleans, La., gave Col. Wayne Magee Jr. his last military flight on Feb. 28, 2017. Magee was Smith’s assistant professor of military science at Wofford, and the flight was only part of Smith’s way of honoring Magee. Smith, who also is preparing for retirement, wrote this article for the base newspaper. No other words are needed. 

As active-duty military, running into those you previously served with isn’t uncommon. Serving in more than one branch of the military increases the chance of always knowing someone at a new duty station.

Today is Fat Tuesday in New Orleans. I am a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Coast Guard and have been tasked to conduct an aerial patrol in support of the Department of Homeland Security over two of the most famous parades of the Mardi Gras season, Rex and Zulu.

I retire in less than a year and, therefore, have a nostalgic enjoyment for every opportunity to perform the many missions I get to conduct on a daily basis in the Coast Guard, but today is special. Today, I have a special passenger. Today, I am also performing a ceremonious last flight for a retiring soldier — a soldier I first met more than 20 years ago, on the campus of Wofford College, in Spartanburg, S.C.

I entered Wofford College in the fall of 1993, and it wasn’t long before I found myself preparing for a military career alongside members of the U.S. Army’s ROTC detachment, better known as the Southern Guard  Battalion. My lead instructor was Army Capt. Wayne Magee Jr., the same Wayne Magee I have scheduled to fly with me today, but now he is a colonel.

Col. Magee, the chief of staff for the 377th Theater Sustainment Command at NAS JRB New Orleans, will soon retire from the Army with more than 33 years of service to our country. I don’t know if that means as much to you as you read this as it does to me but, wow! What an accomplishment and sacrifice. It has been people like me who have benefited from this man’s sacrifices and hard work. If it weren’t for his efforts and dedication to help get me through my formative years in college as I transformed from a student to a soldier and helicopter pilot in the Army, I would not find myself here today preparing to pilot a $10 million helicopter as a member of the Coast Guard.

But his hard work and sacrifices didn’t come free either. He missed his sons’ birthdays, anniversaries with his wife, soccer games, days when his kids came home with a broken heart and days when they accomplished amazing things beyond their expectations. But Col. Magee, like so many of our military members, wasn’t always there to be the dad he wanted to be because he was being the soldier we needed him to be.

Military service for some may be only a few years, a few decades or in Col. Magee’s case 33 years, but it costs so much more than what most people see. I know what he has done and what sacrifices he has made. Thank you, Col. Magee, for your service. You are a hero to your family, to me and to our country. I appreciate your service and hope our two-hour flight on this beautiful morning in the Crescent City helps you see some of the wonderful people in this country you have protected. Even though they aren’t gathering and cheering for you directly, they gather and cheer because of you. I am honored today to conduct this patrol with you — a true American hero. God bless you and the many other men and women of our great military. Thank you for your service. 

By Lt. Cmdr. Travis Smith ’97