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  • Published
  • By Maj. Shelley Ecklebe
  • 442d Fighter Wing

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Lt. Col. John “Karl” Marks, an Air Force Reserve pilot assigned to the 442d Fighter Wing made history Sept. 1, 2021, as he became the only pilot to reach 7,000 hours in the A-10C Thunderbolt II; in addition to becoming one of the highest-time fighter pilots in the U.S. Air Force.

Marks’ resume boasts thirteen combat deployments in multiple theaters of operations, and he said that the best part of his job is being able to “mentor and fly with the next generation of fighter pilots.”

Marks’ story spans over three decades, beginning during the Cold War. He is well-known for destroying 23 Iraqi tanks in a trio of missions.

“I love flying the A-10,” said Marks. “Even after 32 years, it hasn’t gotten old. The technology has changed over time and our adversaries’ threats have also changed. You can’t sit still. You have to adapt and improve.”  

“Karl achieved 7,000 hours in a single aircraft type – what an incredible feat!” said Brig. Gen. Mike Schultz, 442d Fighter Wing Commander. “He has been leading the Air Force in this platform for a long time. He is an outstanding attack pilot; he loves to fly, and his knowledge is an invaluable resource for the squadron. If you stick around on a Friday afternoon, you may even hear a war story or two.”

“7,000 hours. 3,610 sorties. 358 combat sorties in the A-10…just incredible” said Lt. Col. Ryan Hodges, 303rd Fighter Squadron commander, as he presented Marks’ 7000-hour plaque. “No words can describe the caliber of leader and fighter pilot we have in our squadron.”

“Karl has over 1150 combat hours, with so many memorable mission from Desert Storm I, Desert Storm II, and from Afghanistan” said Col. Michael Leonas, 442d Operations Group commander. “Let’s just say I am glad he is on our side.”

What did Marks do to celebrate his 7000th hour? “I wanted to fly with the youngest guy in the squadron, which happened to be Lieutenant Dylan Mackey” said Marks. “Dylan is not only our youngest pilot, but he has a deep legacy within our wing as well. His father, retired Brig. Gen. “Jimmy Mac” Mackey, was an A-10 pilot within our wing whom I’ve flown with many times over the years. It was pretty special to fly my 7,000th hour with his son, Dylan, today. Dylan’s parents were both able to attend today and it was great to see them again.”

“Flying with a guy like Karl is simply an honor and the magnitude of this milestone isn’t lost on me” said Mackey. “He is one of the best fighter pilots in the Combat Air Force and to be able to say I flew with the longest flying A-10 pilot in the world is something I’ll remember forever. Karl has so many tricks up his sleeve that I’m just trying to hang on and absorb everything I can. You are always guaranteed to learn something new flying with him.”

The highlight of Marks’ career so far?

“I’ve been luck enough to deploy quite a bit over my career, there’s no way I could pick just one highlight. If I were absolutely forced to pick, I would call it a tie between eliminating 23 Iraqi tanks on February 25th, 1991, during Desert Storm flying with Eric “Fish” Salomonson, and the mission in Afghanistan’s Kunar Valley in 2014 when I was able to use every skill I ever learned as an A-10 pilot to help extract Jaguar 20 from an intense Troops-in-Contact situation when they were nearly surrounded by Taliban.

Other highlights that come to mind are: strafing enemy positions in Afghanistan’s Tagab Valley at dusk with Todd “Riddler” Riddle; eliminating an entire force of Taliban “Red Unit” fighters at night with Brad “Roadie” Jones in 2018; a crazy 8-plus hour night mission in 2003 with Terry “Goof” Gostomski, the details of which I will leave out.

Overall, I just feel humbled and grateful to be celebrating this milestone today. The quality and caliber of fighter pilots in today’s force keeps me young, keeps me humble, and motivates me daily.”

As for what the future holds? Marks says he will fly as long as the Air Force will let him. “I have at least three more years of flying until my current mandatory retirement age. I am hoping to extend that further to age 62 if the Air Force lets me. It’s been a wild ride and I still have some flying yet to do.”

In addition to his flight time in the A-10C, Marks has also accumulated over 700-hours flying the T-38 Talon as an Air Force instructor pilot.