In Memory of  Air Rescue Crew

"Komodo 11"

On March 23rd, 2003 a pair of HH-60's scrambled from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. The mission was  an urgent medevac  needed to save the lives of two injured Afghani children. For reasons presently unknown, one of the helicopters crashed and all of it's crew was killed. The downed chopper was using the call sign "Komodo 11."

Bob Holler sent the following email after the crash of Komodo 11. "The word is already out. It's in the news. A helicopter crashed in Afghanistan while trying to prosecute a mission. It was a rescue helicopter and two of the deceased are from my unit. Although I can't tell details or names, I can tell you they will be missed. Let's not forget the "other" war that's still going on in Afghanistan. A poem I wrote in the last couple of hours..."

I sit here and type this with tears in my eyes,
the world is not right now, I just lost two guys.

Flying to rescue someone they'd save,
their helo just crashed, an H-60 PAVE.

The helo they flew in crashed to the ground,
leaving only "survivors", their loved ones, around.

One was experienced, the other still new,
they died in the service of both me and you.

They both knew the risks, we accept them like faith,
but once in awhile, death rears like a wraith.

Of one thing I'm certain, they died not in vain,
if it were two others, they'd both fly again.

And fly again, the rest of us will,
if for no other reason then to keep our minds still.

To get back on that horse and ride it away,
to reinforce why we wear the maroon beret.

We lost two brothers and though we are sad,
we'll celebrate their lives, the lives they had.

Lives by the motto, lives we will give,
These Things We Do, That Others May Live.

HOO YAH!!!

From the Chicago Tribune
Medical copter crashes; 6 dead
March 24,2003

BAGRAM, AFGHANISTAN -- A U.S. Air Force helicopter from the 41st Rescue Squadron at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia crashed Sunday in southeastern Afghanistan, killing all six people on board.

The HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter was on a medical evacuation mission when it crashed about 18 miles north of Ghazni.

Enemy fire did not bring down the copter but the cause was under investigation, said a spokesman at Bagram Air Base. The weather across Afghanistan was poor at the time and other flights were grounded.

A Moody base spokeswoman said the names of the dead were being withheld until their families could be notified.

Military officials said the medical emergency and the helicopter flight were not connected to Operation Valiant Strike in southeastern Afghanistan, a mission designed to uproot Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the area.

 

 

High-res version of this photo
 

A somber moment

03/25/03 - OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM -- Army Chaplain (Col.) Richard Rogers leads a prayer March 25 for six airmen killed when their HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter crashed near Ghazni, Afghanistan, on March 23. The helicopter crew was on its way to pick up two Afghan children for treatment in U.S. medical facilities at Bagram Air Base. The remains were being flown to Dover Air Force Base, Del. (U.S. Army photo by Pvt. Terri Rorke)

 

Crash victims identified

03/25/03 - MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFPN) -- Air Force officials have identified the airmen killed in the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crash in Afghanistan on March 23.

The airmen were deployed from here supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Killed in the crash were:

        1st Lt. Tamara Archuleta, co-pilot.

        Staff Sgt. Jason Hicks, flight engineer.

        Master Sgt. Michael Maltz, pararescueman.

        Senior Airman Jason Plite, pararescueman.

        Lt. Col. John Stein, aircraft commander.

        Staff Sgt. John Teal, flight engineer.

Archuleta, Hicks, Stein and Teal were assigned to the 41st Rescue Squadron. Maltz and Plite were assigned to the 38th RQS.

"The Air Force is a close-knit family and the loss of one of our own affects us all," said Brig. Gen. John H. Folkerts, 347th Rescue Wing commander. "We wish to express our deepest condolences to family members of these brave airmen and want them to know that we will not forget the valuable contributions they made to this country and the impact they made on the Air Force."

A memorial service will be held here March 27. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

 

A Memorial service was held for the crew of "Komodo 11"  at Moody AFB, GA on March 27, 2003.The crew of the downed rescue helicopter consisted of personnel assigned to the 41st RQS and the 38th  RQS. If you click the blue hyperlinked names, you will be moved to a page that provides information about that individual and his life.

41 RQS crewmembers were:

 
  Lt Col John Stein - Pilot
 
  1Lt Tamara Archuleta - Copilot
 
  SSgt Jason Hicks - Flight Engineer
 
  SSgt John Teal - Flight Engineer

 

38 RQS crewmembers were: 

 
  MSgt Mike Maltz - Pararescueman
 
  SrA Jason Plite


Georgia airbase honors victims of Afghan crash
By ELLIOTT MINOR, Associated Press
(Published March 27 2003)

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AP) - About 1,200 mourners packed a hangar at this base Thursday to honor six members of an Air Force rescue team who died in Afghanistan during a nighttime mercy mission.

"We grieve the loss of some of our family," said Brig. Gen. John Folkerts, commander of Moody Air Force Base in south-central Georgia. "We'll honor them throughout history for their deeds, but today we say, 'We miss you.'"

Photos of the lost airmen stood on a table beneath a large U.S. flag. The helicopter crew was represented by four flight helmets, and the pararescue specialists who were with them by two maroon berets.

The six were flying in a HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter that crashed Sunday night in the foothills about 20 miles north of the town of Ghazni in eastern Afghanistan.

Officials said they don't believe the crash was the result of enemy action. The crew was attempting to refuel from an HC-130 airplane and may have run into bad weather.

The dead were 1st Lt. Tamara Archuleta, 23, of Los Lunas, N.M.; Staff Sgt. Jason Hicks, 25, of Jefferson, S.C.; Master Sgt. Michael Maltz, 42, of St. Petersburg, Fla.; Senior Airman Jason Plite, 21, of Lansing, Mich.; Lt. Col. John Stein, 39, of Bardolph, Ill.; and Staff Sgt. John Teal, 29, of Dallas.

They were members of the 347th Operations Group, which specializes in rescuing downed pilots behind enemy lines. But on Sunday they were sent out to transport two children with head injuries to a hospital.

Archuleta's uncle, Michael Long, said he's proud of his niece and the others.

"They were everything that is right and just about America," he said. "Theirs was a mission of peace at a time of war. ... Members of this crew were true heroes."

 

Ceremony honors Moody's fallen heroes
By Rip Prine

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE -- There was standing room only for a memorial service at Moody Air Force Base Thursday as airmen paid tribute to six heroes who died Sunday in Afghanistan.

Members of the 41st and 38th Rescue Squadrons comforted each other as they looked at photographs of their fallen comrades, whose HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter crashed while en route to rescue two injured Afghan children. Their actions symbolized the combat search and rescue motto: "That Others May Live."

"The reason we are here this afternoon is to honor the crew of Komodo 11," said Brig Gen. John Folkerts, commander, 347th Rescue Wing. The crew members were Lt. Col. John Stein, Capt. (Select) Tamara Archuleta, Master Sgt. Michael Maltz, Staff Sgt. John Teal, Staff Sgt. Jason Hicks and Senior Airman Jason Plite.

"All of us at Moody Air Force Base are deeply grateful for your presence here today as we grieve the loss of part of our family," Folkerts said. "We'll honor them throughout history for their deeds, but today we gather as a community to say we miss you."

It was a time for those gathered to heal, said Col. Tom Trask, commander, 347th Operations Group. "It will be our job to take up the slack and continue to carry on the combat rescue mission and the combat rescue," Trask said. "They were us, and now part of us is gone."

"Their mission was to attempt to rescue two small children from Afghanistan -- two children that represent the future of a country that we freed from tyranny," Trask said. "There is no one that can argue that this was a just and worthwhile mission."

Individuals who knew the Komodo 11 crew gave personal accounts of their friends.

First Lt. Todd Thorpe spoke of his relationship with Stein, whom he referred to as his mentor. "When I think of Lt. Col. Stein, I think of the No. 1 principal of leadership," Thorpe said. "He was the epitome of technical and tactical expert."

Michael Long, Archuleta's uncle, and former pararescueman, was stationed at the PJ school, Kirkland AFB, N.M., when his niece was born, he said. He had the fortune to watch her grow, before the Air Force took him away. He remembered her successes and her mastery of karate skills that were taught by her father. He remembered her determination to become an Air Force officer and pilot. "To me, she's still the little cousin my daughter used to play with," Long said.

Senior Master Sgt. William Sine, 38th RQS, spoke on behalf of Maltz, whom he had known for 17 years. He described Maltz as an awesome pararescueman who lived and breathed the job. As an instructor, Maltz shaped and molded numerous PJs, Sine said..

Staff Sgt. David Lacey, 41st RQS remembered Teal, whom he said his close friends referred to as Mike rather than John. "Mike loved flying and the rescue mission," Lacey said. He mentioned a mission in Afghanistan in which he and Teal volunteered to fly extra time to rescue a badly wounded soldier on the side of a mountain at about 9,000 feet.

Staff Sgt. William Hale described his friend Hicks playing a football game like he was in the Super Bowl, Hale said. "I never met anybody like Jason before," Hale said. "He was always full of life. He had that typical goofy look on his face, and if you looked at him you couldn't help but smile. I'll never forget him. He died doing what he loved."

Staff Sgt. (Select) Sean Cunningham, 38th RQS, described 21-year-old Plite as a man who loved his job and loved being a PJ. "He was strong, he was energetic, enthusiastic ... ," Cunningham said. "He wanted to learn everything, he wanted to know everything, he wanted to be the best PJ he could be."

Today, crews like Komodo 11 are conducting combat search and rescue missions in Afghanistan and other areas of the world. They have been responsible for saving 57 people ranging from U.S. and Allied military forces to Afghan civilians since their arrival in Afghanistan about 16 months ago, Trask said.

 

 

Hurlburt salutes aircrew killed in Afghanistan crash
Published Friday, March 28, 2003
Kimberly Blair

With so much focus on the war with Iraq, the ongoing war on terrorism in Afghanistan and other parts of the world may have slipped below notice for many.

Thursday's memorial service at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., for the aircrew of an Air Force Pave Hawk helicopter that crashed in Afghanistan on March 23 was a sobering reminder Americans still are in harm's way there.

Among the six who died were two special operations pararescuemen, including Sgt. Michael Maltz. He instructed many of the younger pararescueman assigned to Hurlburt Field, and members of the close-knit pararescue and combat control community from Hurlburt's Air Force Special Operations Command attended the memorial.

"It is a huge loss emotionally to everyone in such a tightknit community," said Scott Gearen, who could not attend the memorial because of work obligations.

The retired pararescueman from Navarre was friends with Maltz.

"Mike Maltz had been in the Air Force about 24 years. He was scheduled to retire, but four days before retirement he called to have his retirement papers taken back because he wanted to volunteer to stay on and do this mission," said Gearen, now a civilian instructor at Hurlburt's command and control warrior school.

Maltz was among the crew led by Lt. Col. John Stein. They died when their helicopter from Air Combat Command at Moody crashed 18 miles north of Ghanzi, Afghanistan, on its way to rescue Afghan children.

The crash is under investigation but was not a result of enemy fire, officials at U.S. Central Command at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa say.

The second pararescueman, Senior Airman Jason Plite, was on his first assignment, said Wayne Norrad, a retired combat controller who heads the Air Force STARS, a precision parachute team headquartered at Hurlburt.

"This is a blow to the entire Air Force because we lost two pilots, a gunner and a flight engineer, too," he said.

The three other crew members: Co-pilot 1st. Lt. Tamara Archuleta; aerial gunner Staff Sgt. Jason Hicks; and flight engineer Staff Sgt. John Teal.

Operation Enduring Freedom has taken a high toll on the small community of pararescuemen, who number some 350. They are warrior medics who infiltrate enemy lines to save air crews and other service members.

Two were killed February 2002 in the Philippines, and one was killed in Afghanistan on March 2, 2002, along with a combat controller.

Some 9,000 American troops and thousands of coalition forces are fighting the war on terrorism in Afghanistan.

On March 20, one day after the war with Iraq ignited, about 1,000 troops launched a raid on villages in southeastern Afghanistan, hunting members of the al- Qaida. The operation, dubbed Valiant Strike, continues today. Troops are finding large weapons caches. Meanwhile, humanitarian efforts continue in the region.

"Certainly operations in Iraq garnered extensive media attention. This helicopter crash occurred at the same time when there was a lot of focus on casualties in Iraqi," said Lt. Cmdr. Nick Balice, spokesman for U.S. Central Command at McDill. "We need to remind people we continue to prosecute the war in Afghanistan and in the Horn of Africa," where U.S. military forces are watching for al-Qaida remnants, he said.

 

The below letter was an email. It's subject line said "A letter from Afghanistan - The Last Full Measure"  It's author  is an A-10 pilot. The A-10's protect the rescue helicopters during combat search and rescue missions. They fill the roll that the A-1 "Sandy" pilots did during the Vietnam War.

Dear friends,

I'm sorry that I haven't written in awhile, but things have been really busy here. Let me tell you about yesterday. A warning in advance that this is not my usual email...

I was Top-3, which means that I wasn't flying but was supervisor during the night shift. My shift got off to an easy start with thunderstorms over the field. Our first go cancelled and I settled in to get some email and paperwork done. The first report came in around 1600 - we had a helicopter down. As you can imagine, that sets off certain bells and whistles that starts to make things happen. As A-10 pilots, we are also trained as Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) pilots, so we scrambled 2 guys airborne to aid in the search and recovery. Not long after the initial report came in, we received the awful news that all 6 crewmembers on board were killed. Worse, it was an Air Force rescue helicopter. Because we are CSAR pilots, A-10 pilots have a special affinity towards rescue pilots and pararescuemen.  "PJs" are the ones who will come down on the ground and get us if we are ever shot down. I knew 2 of the six, and I spent a day with this particular squadron down in Kandahar only two weeks ago.

A second helicopter that was trailing them was on scene, but had to leave the area as an unknown convoy was approaching the scene. This was of particular concern, because (1) we did not want anyone to desecrate the bodies (like you are seeing in Iraq now), and (2) we did not want to lose the classified equipment on board the helicopter. Fortunately none of that happened, and I have to leave the operational details out of this email. But what I want to share with you is what happened afterward...

The second helicopter had to come to Bagram to land. We are the only Air Force unit here. So, we took the lead in making sure they were met at the aircraft, fed, counseled, etc. As Top-3, I personally met them and escorted them around the base. Obviously, the crew on the second helicopter was fairly shaken up. They had witnessed the accident and had been the first on scene to confirm all 6 were killed. Unfortunately, in times like this the first thing we have to do is all safety related - take statements, interview all the participants, etc. During the interview process we received word that the remains were inbound to Bagram.  I took the second crew out to the flightline to meet the recovery helicopter.

It was pitch black outside, no moon, and the base was in black-out conditions. The second crew and I stood on the flightline as the remains were transloaded from the helicopter into waiting ambulances. Just our small group, saluting, as these five brave men and ane brave woman were carefully and respectfully placed aboard the ambulances. One of the most somber moments of my life.

We followed the ambulances to the hospital, where we allowed the second crew to pay their last respects to their squadron comrades. When they were finished, they sat down with a "stress response" team consisting of a chaplain, psychologist and social worker.

As the remains were being processed through Mortuary Affairs, we had an overabundance of volunteers to participate in the ceremony moving them from the mortuary to the C-17 for the final flight home. Two former members of the Air Force Honor Guard stepped up to teach the rest of us how to do the basics, like marching with the caskets. We practiced all afternoon to make sure we had our stuff together, then waited for word of when the flight was due in.
 
Bagram is an Army base, and the Army leadership stepped up - not to take over, simply to make sure the AF had everything we needed to respect our fallen comrades. The body bearers met that morning, and walked out onto the flightline to move down to the mortuary, which is on the south end of the airfield. The brigade Sergeant Major met us at the flightline with six immaculate HMMWVs to transport the caskets. We got to the mortuary and immediately began to load the caskets into the the HMMWVs, then lined them up for a long walk to the aircraft's parking spot.
 
It had rained the day before, and there were several huge puddles as we left the mortuary. No one cared as the water spilled over the tops of their boots. Everyone was looking straight ahead, marching with as much military bearing as I have ever seen. We turned onto Disney Drive, named for yet another fallen hero, Jason Disney, who was an engineer killed in an accident at Bagram last summer.
 
As we marched next to the vehicles, you could see people spilling out from all of the buildings and compounds on each side of the road to pay their respects. There are more than 15 countries with forces at Bagram, and -- completely unplanned -- every last one of them was represented along the road as we passed. Small groups of people, some people by themselves, stood in silence, saluting as the vehicles passed slowly. It was very moving, as we had simply planned to honor our brothers and sisters with a dignified movement; it felt as though the entire base made its sadness known. We turned the corner onto Echo Drive, heading out the airfield, and the street was lined to the point of being crowded with coalition personnel, all ready to pay their respects. Salutes went up as the first vehicle passed, and the only sound you could hear was the HMMWVs idling.
 
The ceremony actually began as the HMMWVs parked in a row perpendicular to the aircraft parking spot. There were two lines of 50 people each, 50 Army and 50 AF, in a gauntlet leading up to the rear ramp. The first group of body bearers began their sequence to remove the casket from the HMMWV, and proceeded to the plane. I was in the second group, and upon the signal to begin, we pulled the casket out, turned, and began moving toward the plane. As we neared, you could hear the troop commander call the command of "present arms" from the other end of the formation, and the salutes went up in unison. We passed slowly through the lines of troops and up onto the ramp. The crew was standing in a semi-circle at the front of the plane at rigid attention, and the first casket was already in place in front of them. We made our way to the front, turned around, and set the casket down next to the first. There was an awkward, solemn moment as we all looked at each other silently, knowing we had done all we could do, but all, I think, wishing we could have done more. We filed down the ramp and fell into the formation, paying our respects as the other four fallen heroes passed by.
 
After the last hero had passed, the chaplain followed the procession onto the plane, then after a minute, came back out. The ramp closed, and the troop commander, chaplain, and color guard filed through the formation. The formation moved quietly back off the airfield, and that was the end of the ceremony. We all stayed out on the ramp as we waited for the plane to taxi. As we stood there, we talked quietly. Up to that point, the names had not been released. I knew they were from Moody AFB, which is where we are stationed, and many of the rescue troops know many of my troops. One of my troops said that he had known one of the fallen airmen--in fact, they had hung out at his house prior to our deployment. I did not know before that moment that Jason Plite was one of the deceased. I knew him from a school we had been to together, and when he arrived at Moody I remember running into him in the gym, then in Valdosta a couple times. The thought of him in one of those caskets hit me very hard, and the only consolation anyone can have, I suppose, is the fact that I was able to be part of that ceremony, and that I was able to be a small part of his life.
 
The troops on the ramp saluted as the plane took off, and we all watched with tears in our eyes as it circled around to the north, then flew back over Bagram one last time on the way home. There are no words that can describe the feeling of placing our own friends, brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers on that plane. It was an honor for all of us there to play a small part that day in paying our last respects to those men and women that gave their lives "that others may live." As stated below, they were on their way to pick up two Afghani mine strike victims.

Please keep a place in your heart for all the courageous men and women that are here, and in Iraq, that are ready to give their lives for the benefit of others. We will never forget. And I echo that sentiment wholeheartedly - may this all be over soon.

You hear many speeches about fighting for freedom, liberty, etc. But in the end, these heroes died not fighting for anything - they were on the way to medical evacuate (medevac) two injured Afghani children. Coverage of their tragedy is overshadowed by the war in Iraq, but "Greater love hath no man than this - To lay down his life for a friend."

I ask you all to keep a special thought and prayer for a group of six individuals who lived by the creed of "So others may live..."

God Bless, and may this all be over soon.

Kevin


[BACK TO FALLEN WARRIORS HOME]

[BACK TO OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM HOME]