Published on HamptonRoads.com
One year later: Remember them
In this military community, few need to be reminded of the loss suffered one year ago, when a Chinook helicopter carrying 38 U.S. and Afghan troops, including 25 members of Special Forces, was felled in Afghanistan by a rocket-propelled grenade.
It was the greatest loss of American life on a single day in the nearly decade-old war, and it felt personal.
Flags in Virginia Beach flew at half-staff. Obituaries told of the courage, talent and resolve of the “immediate reaction force” that had been dispatched to kill or capture a Taliban leader who had eluded others.
These were America’s military elite. As The Pilot reported after the tragedy, the team collectively had 189 years of special operations experience. Among the members, they’d earned 37 Bronze Stars – all but a handful for valor in combat – and four Purple Hearts.
They were also our neighbors, members of our churches, our sons and friends, men who taught our children how to swing a bat and chase a dream.
Many of the victims of the Aug. 6, 2011, crash were members of Virginia Beach-based SEAL Team 6, the unit that had killed Osama bin Laden three months earlier during a clandestine raid in Pakistan.
The pride and gratitude felt then – after nine frustrating years, our guys had taken out the man who planned the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 – was shared by all of America. A great triumph of a long and painful war.
And then, one of its greatest tragedies: 17 SEALs from this same top-secret counterterrorism unit, along with eight other U.S. Air Force and Navy personnel, seven Afghan soldiers, an interpreter, a military working dog, and a five-member helicopter crew, had plummeted 150 feet. The helicopter crash killed everyone on board.
An investigation found that Taliban fighters “on a heightened state of alert” shot down the helicopter, but it cleared commanders of making tactical mistakes that made the helicopter crew vulnerable to attack.
The crash, like the one before it in June 2005 that killed 16 SEALs and Army special operations troops, is a sad reminder, not just of the cost of keeping us safe, but of the impact of the military on our region in human terms.
These men weren’t just revered service members. They were husbands, brothers, sons and fathers. They were people many of us knew:
Darrik Carlyle Benson. Brian Robert Bill. Christopher George Campbell. Jared William Day. John Douangdara and his military working dog, Bart, who died at his side. John Weston Faas. Kevin Arthur Houston. Jonas Benton Kelsall. Louis James Langlais. Matthew David Mason. Stephen Matthew Mills. Nicholas Heath Null. Jesse Daryl Pittman. Thomas Arthur Ratzlaff. Robert James Reeves. Heath Michael Robinson. Nicholas Patrick Spehar. Michael Joseph Strange. Jon Thomas Tumilson. Aaron Carson Vaughn. Kraig Michael Kaleolani Vickers. Jason Ray Workman. Alexander J. Bennett. John W. Brown. David R. Carter. Spencer C. Duncan. Patrick D. Hamburger. Andrew W. Harvell. Bryan J. Nichols. Daniel L. Zerbe.
This community misses them still.