Xavier Magazine

Wings of War

It may be one of the more unique reunions two Xavier grads have pulled off—both great friends, both pilots, one flying the other off to war. The story begins when Daniel Drag, a 1999 graduate, and Mark Keiner, a 1996 grad, met playing on the club hockey team. But it was flying that really united them. Both  obtained a private pilot’s license while in college.

After graduation, Drag decided to pursue a flying career by joining the Air National Guard in his home state of Michigan. He needed more hours to qualify for the Guard, so he reconnected with Keiner, who had become a flight instructor at Blue Ash Airport just north of Cincinnati.

“We just flew, flew, flew—weekends, nights, days,” Drag says. “He helped me get an advanced instrument rating, which looked better to the Guard.”

Drag eventually became a captain piloting the A-10 Warthog. When his unit was deployed to the Mideast in December 2007, Drag knew Keiner had been flying troop transports for North American Airlines, a charter carrier often used by the Pentagon. So he called his old buddy. “I said, ‘If you can get this flight, you can take me overseas.’ He did.”

When the flight landed at the Battlecreek, Mich., base, Drag knew it was his friend at the stick. “We had been buddies for so long flying together, it was just an awesome feeling to see him plant that 767 on the runway at my base and pull in.”

And Keiner didn’t forget his friend on the flight. Drag got the upgrade. “I was sitting in the back in regular coach class with the troops and I hear this guy say, ‘Hey, Drag, come here for a minute.’ He put me in first class. Then we sat in the galley behind the cockpit and chatted as we flew across the Atlantic.”

When the transport arrived in Qatar, the two parted company. Drag’s unit went to Afghanistan. Keiner is currently flying corporate jets out of Lunken Airport in Cincinnati. Drag, who is now back in Michigan, says the reunion flight at least eased the drudgery of heading off to war. “I just kept thinking this was so cool. Here I am going off to no man’s land, and my buddy is taking me.”

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