Newnan resident receives Legion of Merit Award

Col. Steven Charles (L) receives the Legion of Merit award in a May 1 ceremony in Birmingham. The award was presented by Brig. Gen. David W. Puster.

Colonel Steven Charles had a long military career, serving in the Navy, the Air Force and the Air Force Reserve. Over the course of 30 years, Charles served two cruises abouard the USS Constellation, had 212 carrier landings (89 of them at night) graduated from navy Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun) and served as an instructor in both the F-111 Aardvark and the F-117 Stealth Fighter. It was for his six years of service as program manager for the 87th Air Force Element and Air Director of Joint Operations with the U.S. Army Forces Command, 87th Battle Command Training Division out of Birmingham, Ala. that earned him the Legion of Merit award.

His duties with that program were to train Army soldiers in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom how to call in close air support.

Charles boiled down his job by saying that his training taught soldiers how to talk to the Air Force, call in for help and the formats, protocols and chain of command they needed to follow.

Combat intelligence debriefs confirmed that the training the soldiers received saved countless lives and at times prevented total annihilation of ground forces.

“There were soldiers pinned down by the Taliban and they were able to call in support and wipe them out,” said Charles. He reflected on his years of service and proudly stated that he had a job with a purpose. “There’s something about doing something great for America. I was honored to participate.”

Charles also established a “Train the Trainers” program that guaranteed the soldiers readiness and understanding of joint operations on the battlefield.

The award is a highlight of a 30 year career that included being one of the two pilots flying a Stealth Fighter during their unveiling in 1990.

“There was about 15 seconds of me on NBC, CBS, ABC and CNN that day,” Charles joked.

Charles left active duty in 1991, joined the Air Force Reserves and served in the Civil Air patrol for four years before joining the 87th Division in 1995. He is currently a Boeing 767 Pilot for Delta. He has flown with them for 20 years and is a first officer.

Charles knew that he had been nominated for the Legion of Merit Award, but wasn’t sure he would receive it. The process took several years but he kept getting assurances from those that put him up for the award were continuing to follow up on it.

The award was presented to him last Saturday at the 4th Brigade, 75th Division Soldiers Ball in Birmingham. Brigadier General David W. Puster presented Charles with the award.

Charles was humbled by the award and gave lots of credit to the soldiers he trained.

“They are a group of patriots who just wanted to serve,” Charles said.

Charles lived in Peachtree City and Tyrone before moving to Newnan. His parents, Richard and Kathryn, live in Peachtree City.

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