"In their short time, they made the world a better place.” - Chaplain (MAJ) Joseph Fleury
On April 6th, a flight of two US Army CH-47 Chinooks took off from Kabul headed to Bagram Air Base. They carried mail, supplies, and personnel. There were sand storms that day...nothing really unusual for the 'stan.
Only one bird made it back.
Some early information that I have is that at about 2:45 PM one of the Chinooks, "Windy Two Five", flew through a large storm that created a 13,000 foot funnel of whirling sand and debris. The aircraft apparently distintegrated in mid air, crashing near the village of Deh Khudaidad about 80 miles south of Kabul. The incident is being investigated and there is no official conclusion as to what caused the crash, yet.
Below is a picture of the memorial at Bagram sent by Sgt. Hook.
Five of the fallen were the flight crew from Company F-159th Aviation Regiment (12th Aviation Brigade) - "Big Windy" - out of Giebelstadt, Germany. There's quite a blogger connection to the 159th. Teresa of Technicalities has a son who is a crew chief in Big Windy. And CaliValleyGirl's boyfriend is also serving in Big Windy.
The Stars & Stripes published information about them - authors are Kent Harris and Joseph Giordono:
Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Ayala, 24, was born in South Carolina and enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school. He married his wife, Athena, while attending flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala., in 2002. Ayala served in Kosovo and Afghanistan, logging 50 hours of combat time in one month. Awards include the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal and the Bronze Star, which was awarded posthumously.
Maj. Craig Wilhelm, Ayala’s company commander, praised his “ability to make sure we always kept things in the proper perspective.” Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ed Maynard attended flight school with Ayala and recalled his friend’s love of wine and cooking and desire to find “just the right house” for his wife to live in.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Clint J. Prather, 32, was a native of Cheney, Wash., and enlisted to serve as a combat medic in the Persian Gulf War. He served in South Korea and later in Fort Gordon, Ga., where he met and married his wife, Irene. He flew 240 hours of combat missions in Iraq, flying mainly out of Balad. In Afghanistan, Prather logged nearly 100 hours of combat flight time in one month. Awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, two Air Medals, the Army Commendation Medal and a posthumous Bronze Star.
Prather was “a charismatic joker” who “had a way of commanding a room,” Wilhelm said. Chief Warrant Officer 3 John Sims said Prather could have transferred out of the unit after serving a stint in Iraq, but volunteered to stay on, knowing it was headed for Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Charles R. Sanders Jr., 29, a native of Charleston, Mo., enlisted in 1995 as a helicopter mechanic. He logged more than 60 hours of combat flight time in one month in Afghanistan as a flight engineer. Sanders married his wife, Gwendolyn, in 1998 and the couple had two children. Sanders’ awards include the Army Commendation Medal, the Senior Aviation Badge and a posthumous Bronze Star.
Sgt. Jesse Wandling said Sanders, a relative newcomer to “Big Windy” in Germany, was the son of a retired Army first sergeant who had two stints of service in Alaska, with a stop in Georgia sandwiched between.
Spc. Michael K. Spivey, 21, was born in Oklahoma and enlisted shortly after graduating from high school. Working his way up to crew chief, Spivey served in Iraq and volunteered to be a door gunner. He flew more than 65 hours of combat time in Afghanistan. Awards include the Meritorious Unit Citation, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and a posthumous Bronze Star.
Wilhelm recalled Spivey as “a faithful volunteer who never seemed to tire.” Pfc. Amber Gardner said her friend “always knew the right thing to say at the right time.” She praised his intelligence, responsibility and high moral standards. His stint in Iraq “made him stronger as a person and a soldier.”
Spc. Pendelton L. Sykes II, 25, was a native of Chesapeake, Va., and enlisted in the Army in 2003. Sykes, who was married, volunteered to serve as a door gunner for the Afghanistan deployment, logging dozens of combat flight hours in the unit’s first month in the country. Awards include the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and a posthumous Bronze Star.
Wilhelm called Sykes “the young man with a contagious smile.” Spc. Alex Rolinski said his friend liked to lift weights and repair cars and helicopters. “But he was best at being a friend. He had an unforgettable laugh.”
The rest of the Americans who lost their lives in the crash were from various other units or were civilians.
Three of the lost Soldiers were from the Red Devils - 1st of the 508th Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. The Stars & Stripes' Kent Harris wrote about them.
Sascha Struble, 20, an Army corporal from Philadelphia, N.Y., was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment. Struble was a paralegal who became a paratrooper and looked forward to a career in law after leaving the service. Struble was “a true combat multiplier who took good care of our soldiers,” said Lt. Col. Tim McGuire, the battalion commander.
Romanes L. Woodard, 30, an Army staff sergeant from Hertford, N.C., was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment. Kilbride called Woodard “a dedicated father and quiet professional.” McGuire said he was a key member of his maintenance platoon, adding, “We could not have deployed as a combat ready force” without him.
Daniel J. Freeman, 20, an Army corporal from Cincinnati, was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment. Jack Kilbride, commander of the battalion’s headquarters company, said, “No matter how mundane, how menial or how difficult the task, Corporal Freeman accomplished it with a smile.”
There was also a Marine on board. Sergeant James Lee was the last of his unit to secure ordnance at FOB Orgun-E (Task Force Red Horse). He had missed an earlier flight and was finally going to be heading home to Indiana:
James S. Lee, 26, a Marine sergeant from Mt. Vernon, Ind., was with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 142, Marine Aircraft Group 42, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing. Gunnery Sgt. Mikel Culver said his friend was looking forward to getting closer to his father and wife when he returned to the States. “There were a lot of things he wanted to do when he got back.”
One of the fallen was a former enlisted Coastie, then Ranger Officer, then a JAG Officer (US Army Reserve) who always wanted to make a difference in peoples' lives.
David S. Connolly, 37, an Army captain from Boston, was an Army reservist with the 1173rd Transportation Terminal Battalion and a prosecutor for Suffolk County, Mass. He had served in Iraq before joining the prosecutor’s office, where he was one of 10 assigned to the Boston Municipal Court.
Boston Globe reporter, Christine McConville, reports about his funeral and those who will never forget him.
...Gregory Connolly, one of Connolly's four brothers, recalled his older sibling as a man ''with a strong sense of values in a society consumed by the individual. David believed in others."
He added: ''Many a summer night, we sat listening to the [Red] Sox, fishing for stripers in the harbor. Leisure was on the agenda, but the conversation often turned to a series of questions: 'Could you do more, could you do better, could you make a difference?' "...
At the end of his eulogy, Greg Connolly encouraged the congregation to follow his brother's example.
''Through a single act of kindness, persevering in achieving a personal goal, or supporting a cause for which you have conviction, there could be no more powerful testament and legacy to my brother David than for each of us to leave here today and make a difference in the lives of others," he said.
There were two senior NCOs who were members of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, Division Artillery, 25th Infantry Division (Light) from Schofield Barracks (Hawaii). The two NCOs were good friends - often seen having weight-lifting challenges at the gym. Over 200 Soldiers crammed into the chapel tent for their memorial at FOB Salerno.
Sergeant Major Barbaliena Banks has two bachelor degrees - computer science and business administration. She is the mother of two (her youngest, Kent, just graduated from high school) and grandmother of three from Louisana. She also has a sister in the US Army Reserves. SFC Class Cassandra Jeanpierre is serving a second tour in Kuwait.
Barbaralien Banks, 41, an Army sergeant major, from Harvey, La., was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division. Maj. Dewey Mosley, Banks’ supervisor, said she had volunteered to fix a problem in the field, putting her on the flight. Sgt. Christian Monk said Banks was a strong female role model: “I hope to take what I have learned from her and pass it on to my soldiers.”
Master Sergeant Edward Matos-Colon volunteered to go with SGM Banks to help some of his constituents in the FOBs in the Paktika Province. He was noted for his cool demeanor and can-do attitude...as well as ribbing from his troops for his Vin Diesel-esque look.
Edward A. Matos-Colon, 42, an Army master sergeant from Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico, was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division. Col. Gary Cheek, commander of Task Force Thunder, said if there were a picture next to the definition of a mechanic in the dictionary, Matos would be there. “He was a man of great enthusiasm, one who would take on any mission, any task.”
Major Edward Murphy loved being a Soldier. He was a Jumpmaster with over 300 jumps and a Ranger. He was known as a kind man, but also one that never ever quit. A Signal Corps Officer, he was the Deputy Communications Officer for the Joint Task Force with a bright future.
Edward J. Murphy, 36, an Army major from Charleston, S.C., was assigned to the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) in Vicenza, Italy. Master Sgt. Steve Roberts said Murphy was “just a good guy.” He said Murphy had ventured out to see how things were going on the bases outside of Bagram. Murphy was due to head back to Vicenza in June to become the executive officer of the 509th Signal Battalion.
Russ Rizzo of the Stars & Stripes had written about Major Murphy's missions:
...He was a signal officer for the Southern European Task Force, an office job that was supposed put him in relative safety as he kept up communication for Bagram.
That’s what his wife envisioned him doing.
“He told me he was behind a desk through two security gates,” Barclay Murphy said in an interview Wednesday with Stars and Stripes.
But war can change job descriptions.
Commanders needed a man with Murphy’s training as an Army Ranger and jump master to help with the 173rd’s missions, Army officials told Barclay Murphy.
And Murphy volunteered to fill that need, she said.
For five weeks, he went to forward bases. He sent an e-mail telling his wife’s parents that his job had changed and alluding to new dangers, Barclay Murphy said. But he never let on to his wife or their two children at home, Barclay Murphy said.
“He was protecting us,” she said...
He was protecting ALL of us.
Two Soldiers from the 228th Signal Brigade were lost on the flight. Sergeant Stephen High traveled extensively throughout Afghanistan instructing Soldiers on the use of their radios.
Stephen C. High, 45, an Army sergeant from Spartanburg, S.C., was in the National Guard, assigned to the 228th Signal Brigade. Capt. Randall Price, who leads the 228th in Afghanistan, said High’s experience in the military — 15 years in the Navy and five in the Guard — made him a valuable asset to his unit. High’s mission of getting others up to speed on new Army radios had him traveling all around the country.
Army Specialist Chrystal Stout was looking forward to her first mission "outside the wire". She took the place of another Soldier who was on leave. She was responsible for installing anti-virus programs on military computers.
Chrystal G. Stout, 23, an Army specialist from Travelers Rest, S.C., was in the National Guard and assigned to the 228th Signal Brigade. Sgt. Leoreen Mackey said her friend was opinionated and willing to stand up for her beliefs. “She would give you the shirt off her back if you needed it.”
Three civilian contractors from KBR were returning from a mission supporting the military. Kent Harris of Stars & Stripes wrote the following:
....Jimmy Baugh, who supervises work at 50 sites in Afghanistan, said the three were headed back from working at Orgun-E.
“They were coming in as a team and after two or three days, they were going to go back out again to another location,” Baugh said.
Rick Reuter, KBR’s regional project manager for Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, said the three men were skilled and dedicated.
“They just liked flying around, solving problems for soldiers.”
The three KBR employees were:
Lance Bret Taylor, 36, a civilian KBR employee from Spring Valley, Calif., was a pest control technician. Rick Reuter, KBR’s regional project manager in Afghanistan, said Taylor and the other two KBR employees killed in the crash were part of “a pretty elite group of guys. They’re out there in the middle of nowhere and they really have to know their trades.”
Ronald “Ronn” Wade, 46, a civilian KBR team leader from Emory, Texas, was a mechanic specializing in air conditioning and heating, but filled other roles as well. “He was also a great electrician,” Baugh said.
Sy Jason Lucio, 28, a civilian employee of Kellogg Brown & Root Services Inc., from Clyde, Ohio. Jimmy Baugh, who supervises 50 remote sites for KBR, called Lucio “an up-and-coming electrician.” He said it was Lucio’s second stint at Orgun-E. “He had done a great job for us out there before.”
Throughout researching this post, time and again, the troops talked about remembering their comrades' sacrifices but also remembering to focus on the mission and the job of Soldiering.
Part of Big Windy's soldiers who remained in Germany are on the rifle range in Kitzingen this week (the very range I used to run). Getting back to normal won't happen for the families and friends around Giebelstadt, Germany, and Bagram, Afghanistan.
And, with the Spring thaw in the Afghan mountains, those Soldiers and Marines have a fight on their hands.
Keep every one of 'em in your thoughts and prayers.
That's what everyone of the eighteen Americans aboard Windy Two Five would want.