March 14, 2002, 11:37 EST

203rd RED HORSE dedicates memorial to fallen airmen

by Maj. Debbie Magaldi
Virginia Air National Guard Public Affairs Office


A red horse kneels in front of the 7,000-pound, black granite boulder with the names of the 21 fallen National Guard soldiers etched into its polished surface. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Turney)

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

CAMP PENDLETON, VA -More than 1,000 people turned out despite rainy, blustery weather to take part in the 203d RED HORSE Flight memorial dedication on March 3, honoring the lives of their 18 brothers and the three Florida Army Guard aviators who perished in a military transport crash one-year ago.

The dedication ceremony began at 2 p.m. at the 203d RED HORSE headquarters, located on Camp Pendleton, Virginia Beach. More than 350 family members of those who perished, unit members, military and civilian dignitaries, and guests attended the dedication. Several of the 28 chaplains who assisted family and unit members in the days, weeks and months after the crash also attended.

Keynote speaker Mark Warner, Governor of Virginia, in his first public appearance as commander in chief of the state’s national guard forces, admitted, “This is an occasion when the remarks of a governor … hardly seem adequate. These men were men of courage, judgment and integrity. But most of all, they were men of dedication. We honor them, and we thank their families for service to Virginia and the nation.”

Warner commended the lives and sacrifices of those who died in the March 3, 2001, crash quoting Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, who said: “The patriot volunteer, fighting for country and his rights, makes the most reliable soldier on earth.”

He told all in attendance that the best way to honor the fallen guardsmen was to “support our citizen soldiers.” He called upon everyone to become part of the community service organizations that provide a “chain of concern” -- the volunteer groups, agencies and churches that provide emergency aid and comfort during and after civil disasters.

Recently retired Air National Guard Director, Maj. Gen. Paul A. Weaver Jr., recalled one year ago when word of the C-23 crash came in: 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. He hopes the monument will be considered a “living memorial to our kinsmen, who made the supreme sacrifice.”

The memorial takes the form of a reflection or meditation garden complete with the unit’s mascot æ 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 -- 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; 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.

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

The eighteen 203d RED HORSE men and the three Florida Army National Guard aviators from Detachment 1 of the 171st Aviation Battalion, perished March 3, 2001, as the 203d members were returning home after completing a two-week, military construction project at Hurlburt Field, FL. The C-23 Sherpa they were riding in crashed in a cotton field near Unadilla, in southern Georgia.

RED HORSE units are a rapid-response, Air Force civil engineering force capable of doing airfield runway repair, performing the full range of construction activities, and setting up operational military bases in undeveloped areas.

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