This morning while I listened to eulogies describing former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as “A great Briton” and a patriot, my thoughts turned to my classmate Dorothy Mahaffy Steel, a great American and patriot. Like Thatcher, Steel knows what it like to be a woman in a traditionally male arena. While many of us women in the Class of 1980 focused, at least some of the time, on breaking boundaries for females, Dorothy (Dee) completely focused on serving her God and country — and varsity gymnastics.
After graduation, in addition to her own Air Force obligations and remaining active in gymnastics, Dee married a like-minded USAFA graduate and together they raised a family of patriots. On April 3, Dee made a sacrifice that she readily understood and accepted as part of her family’s moral code. Her son died while landing his F-16 in Afghanistan.
The loss of Captain James Steel, Class of 2006, is felt by a broad swath of AFA alumni, including everyone who knows James’ mother, Class of 1980; father Retired Major General Robert P. Steel, Class of 1978; James’ brothers (twin) Jonathan, Class of 2007, a C-17 pilot; Chris, Class of 2008; Bobby, Merchant Marine Academy Class of 2004; Paul, an Air Force Combat Controller (the guys who jump in with the SEALs, in addition to other missions); and James’ sister Michelle and sister-in-law Samantha. That is five Air Force Academy graduates and seven service members.
Please say extra prayers tonight for this great American family.
I know that some readers want to know more about the crash. The Air Force Times reported that there was no indication of enemy action, and that the incident is under investigation. I urge readers to wait patiently for the investigation results, which should take weeks to months. The F-16 is a reliable, but old, single-engine fighter, that Steel flew in Close Air Support missions — a demanding, sometimes low-level (low altitude) mission. The tempo (how often and how much flying is done) on both airframes and pilots in the last two years has been high. The crash occurred during a night landing, which is always challenging. Whether the aircraft was felled by enemy or other factors does not matter; Steel died during dangerous operations supporting his country’s military objectives.