March 4, 2011

203rd RED HORSE holds memorial service for Airmen, Soldiers lost in airplane crash 10 years ago

By Cotton Puryear
Va. Department of Military Affairs

VIRGINIA BEACH — The Virginia Air National Guard's 203rd RED HORSE Squadron conducted a memorial service at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach March 3, 2011 to honor 18 unit members and three Florida Army Guard aviators who perished in a military transport crash 10 years ago.

 

The Virginia Air National Guard's 203rd RED HORSE Squadron conducted a memorial service at the State Military Reservation March 3, 2011 to honor 18 unit members and three Florida Army Guard aviators who perished in a military transport crash 10 years ago. The 18 engineers and three Florida aviators from Detachment 1 of the 171st Aviation Battalion, were killed on March 3, 2001, as the 203rd members were returning home after completing a two-week, military construction project at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The C-23 Sherpa they were flying in crashed in a cotton field near Unadilla, Ga. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Va. Department of Military Affairs)

Click HERE to see more photos from the event on the Virginia National Guard Flickr site.

The 18 engineers and three Florida aviators from Detachment, 171st Aviation Battalion were killed on March 3, 2001, as the 203rd members were returning home after completing a two-week military construction project at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The C-23 Sherpa they were flying in crashed in a cotton field near Unadilla, Ga.

“On that fateful day, the nation lost 21 skilled warriors, but others lost sons, fathers, husbands, brothers, fellow Horsemen and friends,” said Lt. Col. Pete Garner, current commander of the 203rd RED HORSE Squadron.

The C-23 crash was the worst peacetime aviation disaster in the history of the National Guard, and the worst loss of life in the Virginia National Guard since World War II.

“We take time out each year to honor these fallen heroes and what it means to be a citizen Airmen and Soldier,” Garner said. “We don’t take this commitment lightly because we know there is a price to be paid for the freedoms we enjoy in this great nation.”

Frederick Watkins, II lost his son Maj. Frederick Watkins, III in the crash, and he remembered him as someone who loved life, engineering and the great outdoors. “If you put those things together, the only thing I could say is that he went down doing what he loved,” Watkins said. “He loved his family, he loved the Guard and he loved life.”

Watkins thanked the 203rd members, both currently serving and retired, for putting on the memorial service, and he acknowledged that it was hard on the members of the unit as well as family members. “To know that he went down as part of something as great as his Guard unit is, and he is recognized for that means a tremendous amount to us,” he said. “It is a blessing, but not just for us, but for them as well because they lost family. The Guard truly is family.”

 

A Virginia Air Guard master sergeant presents arms following the 21-gun salute during the 203rd RED HORSE Squadron  memorial service at the State Military Reservation March 3, 2011. The service was held to honor 18 Airmen from the REDHORSE and three Florida Army Guard aviators who perished in a military transport crash 10 years ago. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Click HERE to see more photos from the event on the Virginia National Guard Flickr site.

The memorial takes the form of a reflection or meditation garden complete with the unit’s mascot: a life-size, rearing red horse. The 30,000-square-foot memorial also includes a large bronze Minuteman statue rising up from a clear pool in front of a waterfall, and a second red horse. This horse kneels in front of a memorial made from a 7,000-pound, black granite boulder with the names of the 21 National Guard men etched into its one polished surface.

Encircling the border of the memorial is a winding path embracing 22 Bradford pear trees, and a plaque at the base of each tree honors each one of the Guardsmen. The 22nd tree bears a plaque honoring those who died during the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, which took place four days before the groundbreaking of the 203d’s memorial on Sept. 15, 2001.

During the memorial service, a U. S. flag was placed at the base of each tree honoring the Guardsmen as each of their names was read aloud.

“The trees that surround this walkway are dedicated to each of these men, and this is a place to visit, to sit quietly and reflect,” said retired Col. Thomas J. Turlip, the commander of the 203rd on the day of the crash. “On a quiet and breezy day just like today, if you listen closely you can hear in the wind their voices among the many decades of National Guardsmen who trained at this place, ready to protect freedom.”

The memorial incorporates ideas from several 203rd members and used a range of the construction skills found in RED HORSE units. Members of the 203rd, assisted by RED HORSE units from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Washington, Montana and Texas, built most of the memorial.

Approximately 125 Airmen from the 203rd began a tour of federal active duty Feb. 17, and they will depart March 5 for Fort McCoy, Wisc., for three weeks of Combat Skills Training before heading overseas. The unit is expect to be mobilized for six to eight months in Afghanistan and the Central Command area of operations and should be back in the United States before the end of the year.

RED HORSE stands for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, and the unit provides a highly mobile civil engineering response force to support contingency operations worldwide.

203rd RED HORSE Airmen lost in the crash:
• Master Sgt. James Beninati of Virginia Beach, Va.
• Staff Sgt. Paul Blancato of Norfolk, Va.
• Tech. Sgt. Ernest Blawas of Virginia Beach, Va.
• Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Bridges of Chesapeake, Va.
• Master Sgt. Eric Bulman of Virginia Beach, Va.
• Staff Sgt. Paul Cramer of Norfolk, Va.
• Tech. Sgt. Michael East of Parksley, Va.
• Staff Sgt. Ronald Elkin of Norfolk, Va.
• Sgt. James Ferguson of Newport News, Va.
• Staff Sgt. Randy Johnson of Emporia, Va.
• Senior Airman Mathew Kidd of Hampton, Va.
• Master Sgt. Michael Lane of Moyock, Va.
• Tech. Sgt. Edwin Richardson of Virginia Beach, Va.
• Tech. Sgt. Dean Shelby of Virginia Beach, Va.
• Staff Sgt. John Sincavage of Chesapeake, Va.
• Staff Sgt. Gregory Skurupey of Gloucester, Va.
• Staff Sgt Richard Summerell of Franklin, Va.
• Maj. Frederick Watkins of Virginia Beach, Va.

Florida Army Guard Soldiers lost in the crash:
• CW4 Johnny W. Duce of Orange Park, Fl
• CW2 Eric P. Larson of Land-O-Lakes, Fl.
• SSG Robert F. Ward Jr. of Lakeland, Fl.

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Additional background information:

March 14, 2002
203rd RED HORSE dedicates memorial to fallen airmen

Feb. 22, 2011
Virginia Air Guard civil engineers demonstrate capabilities for employers as they prepare for federal active duty

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