- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2012

When retired Air Force pilot Mike Ross learned this month that the Navy aviator who shot him down is on a nomination list for the rank of admiral, he had a visceral reaction.

“I almost got sick,” said Col. Ross, 56. “He ruined by life.”

All the horror and pain came rushing back when he read The Washington Times story about NavyCapt. Timothy W. Dorsey’s pending promotion to flag rank. The Pentagon sent his nomination to the Senate Armed Services Committee this month.

This tale of two officers began nearly 25 years ago. Col. Ross, an Air Force captain at the time, was flying his RF-4C reconnaissance jet over the Mediterranean Sea in a NATO non-fire exercise.

He refueled with an Air National Guard aerial tanker and saw Lt. (j.g.) Dorsey’s F-14 Tomcat monitoring him.

“Nothing like cheating,” Capt. Ross recalled thinking after getting back to his squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy. “This is supposed to be an exercise. You’re supposed to come find me - not sit on my tanker and then chase me for 15 minutes and then shoot me down.”

Back-breaking whiplash

As Capt. Ross approached the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, Lt. Dorsey literally obeyed a radio command to fire, even though the exercise was planned to be purely simulated. He launched a Sidewinder missile, blowing the RF-4C out of the sky.

A Navy investigation found that Lt. Dorsey knew the RF-4C was friendly, saying his decision to fire was “deliberate” and “illogical.” The Navy banned him from flying, a punishment that at the time would seem to have ended the career of the Navy admiral’s son.

Capt. Ross and his back-seat weapons officer ejected just before the fireball would have killed them.

First the canopy flew off, subjecting Capt. Ross to a strong gravitational force that pushed up his body and exposed his head to a 500-knot wind. The rocket-powered ejection seat slammed beneath him, thrusting him from the cockpit.

The subsequent whiplash took a slow, excruciating toll.

Over the years, his spine degenerated, requiring painkillers and multiple surgeries. The ejection also dislocated his shoulders, broke his left hand and his left knee, and damaged an ankle.

Capt. Ross, who had no history of back problems until the shoot-down, continued his Air Force flying career.

But his degenerating spine worsened. He had his first major back surgery in 1992. Six more would follow as surgeons installed screws, plates and rods to keep a cracked and fragile spine functional.

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