Not Ours...Please, Not Ours
Through our intelligence channels, we received news of the US Army Black Hawk helicopter crash minutes after it happened, on January 20, 2007. Not much was known about the incident except it was not ours. All Punisher (our call sign) aircraft were safely accounted for and we would be going home soon, if only we could make it out of here without any casualties. Our missions continued at the regular fly, eat, sleep pace maintained the whole time we've been here. Many of us started to review the basics of our flight tactics, a result of the news. Our experienced pilots stood up and gave speeches about "making it to the end" and "don't let complacency come into our operations". Because the incident happened outside of the Marine Corps area of responsibility, our internet access was not turned off. This gave all of us the chance to communicate home, "We are OK. It was not a 224th aircraft."
I even wrote home. I have not done it before, but this time I felt that we were so close to going home, it would be better to let my family know we were not involved. Four or five days had passed since the accident was announced and we were all shocked to get the call from our commander. Two of our own were on the flight. It was a sinking feeling for everybody to learn one of the 2-224th's former commanders, working for the Joint Force Headquarters - Virginia, Col Paul M. Kelly was on the flight. Also on the flight, Staff Sgt Darryl D. Booker, a member of the 2-224th's Flight Operations office, who originally stayed stateside to help run Flight Operations in Sandston, VA while the unit was gone on the deployment.
Several pilots of greater experience and tenure with the unit who knew Col. Kelly and Staff Sgt Booker were to say the least, unnerved. It had been us; we were involved in the crash on January 20, 2007. Some instantly broke out with tears. It was the quiet cry by grown men. No words, no drastic reactions, no sobbing. Just the slow trickle of tears down cheeks, one after another, eventually bringing questions. "How...?"
Within hours of the commander's call, memorial services were planned at Al Asad. The next day all but the necessary flight crews and operations staff remained in TQ, while the rest of the company went to Al Asad for the memorial service, where most of the 2-224th assembled to remember and celebrate the lives of fallen comrades.
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