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1999 Distinguished Graduate Award

    GEN Robert C. Mathis '48

As a distinguished combat airman, outstanding Air Force leader, educator, and preeminent program manager, and as an acknowledged expert in the research and development of highly technical Air Force weapons systems, Robert Couth Mathis has served his country in positions of great responsibility with distinction and an extraordinary sense of duty throughout a career spanning four decades.
Robert Mathis graduated from the Military Academy in 1948 and was commissioned in the Air Force. He underwent pilot training at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, and Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, and in December 1949 he was assigned as a fighter pilot to the 51st Fighter Group at Naha Air Base, Okinawa. In 1950, as American troops were committed to combat in Korea, Lieutenant Mathis was posted to the 16th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron as a ground-based Forward Air Controller with the infantry. Cut off behind enemy lines when his unit was overrun by the Chinese, he managed to evade capture and rejoin his unit, although he was wounded by enemy fire in the process. He later returned to the combat theater to fly F-80 jet fighters and T-6 “Mosquito” aircraft.
Captain Robert Mathis reported to the United States Naval Academy where he served a three-year tour as an instructor in Electrical Engineering. He then began a long and fruitful association in research and development with his assignment to Rome Air Development Center at Griffiss Air Force Base, New York. As Program Director, then as Technical Director, and later as Officer in Charge of the Trinidad, British West Indies Test Site, Major Mathis directed the construction and operation of an experimental radar station designed to track ballistic missiles and satellites — the forerunner of the critically important Ballistic Missile Early Warning System. Widely recognized as an expert in radar technology, Robert Mathis continued to be assigned to the Air Force’s most difficult and vital projects over the course of his career.
In 1963, Major Mathis was awarded his doctorate in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas. He reported to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, where he was Project Engineer and later, Chief, Electrical Branch. In 1966 he was selected to attend the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and upon his graduation in 1967, Colonel Mathis was assigned to the Air Force Advisory Team in Vietnam, where as Senior Advisor to the Republic of Vietnam Air Force at Binh Thuy Air Base in the Mekong Delta, he flew 222 combat sorties in fighter and attack aircraft.
Following his tour in Vietnam, Robert Mathis was assigned to the Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, Office of the Secretary of Defense. His duties as assistant to the Deputy Director lasted one year. Colonel Mathis was then selected to command Rome Air Development Center, Air Force Systems Command at Griffiss Air Force Base, New York.
Two years later, General Mathis was assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where he became Director for the F-111 Fighter Program at a time when that controversial project was in serious difficulty. His superior management skills enabled the program to get back on track. Assigned as Project Manager for the F-15 fighter program when technical problems were placing both the F-15 and F-16 programs in jeopardy, General Mathis once again drew on his superb technical ability, foresight, and extensive knowledge of military tactics and air operations to ensure the successful development of an airplane that has remained the world’s most advanced fighter for more than twenty years.
In 1976, Major General Mathis was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff, Systems, Headquarters Air Force Systems Command at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. From 1977 until 1979, Lieutenant General Mathis was Vice Commander, Air Force Systems Command. The following year found him serving as Vice Commander, Tactical Air Command at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. In March 1980, Robert Mathis was promoted to the rank of General and appointed Vice Chief of Staff, United States Air Force. He retired from active duty in 1982, having spent 38 years in uniform.
Among his many decorations, General Mathis has been awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, the Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster, the Air Medal with eleven oak leaf clusters, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Purple Heart, and many foreign awards.
Since retiring from the Air Force, Bob Mathis has been active in military, business, and philanthropic endeavors. Appointed to the Air Force Study Board, he provided invaluable advice to the Air Force Systems Command on technical matters.
When Bob Mathis retired from active duty, he had one goal in mind, and that was to establish a charitable facility to provide therapeutic recreational programs for disabled people of all ages. Over the past several years, the Eagle Mount program has grown to encompass three locations and last year more than 1,500 people with severe disabilities participated and as many volunteers were trained. A special program called Big Sky Kids has been created for children with cancer. Among the activities featured are adaptive skiing, horseback riding, aquatic therapy, golf, rafting, and family camping.
General Mathis also found the I Am Third Foundation as the governing body for Eagle Mount. He established Eagle Pass Engineering, a consulting firm whose profits provide a source of funds for Eagle Mount; and he created TMA, an electro-optical company that also assists the I Am Third Foundation financially.
As important as his work is in organizing firms to help in funding his charitable work, more important and the key to the success of the Eagle Mount program is Bob Mathis’ selfless commitment and unbounded enthusiasm. The nationally recognized Eagle Mount program has been a model for similar activities in many other states.
Throughout a long and distinguished career in the service of his country, General Mathis’ every action has mirrored the words of the West Point motto: “Duty, Honor, Country.” His achievements as a superlative Air Force commander and renowned expert in many technical areas made substantial and permanent contributions to the national security of the United States. As a philanthropist, his integrity, leadership, and uncommon concern for the welfare of his fellow man have set a standard of performance and conduct against which future generations of West Point graduates will be measured.
Accordingly, the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy takes great pride in presenting General Mathis the 1999 Distinguished Graduate Award.

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