Saturday, May 28, 2011

Rest In Peace, Easy 40

Happy Memorial Day weekend! I know most of you are planning family BBQs or (if you are in Arkansas) trips to Riverfest, or maybe time on the lake. But as a military family, and the home of a combat veteran, this is more than just a long weekend in the Brewer home. Cole and I are very determined to teach our children of the importance and true meaning of Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Independence Day. I think it is important for all Americans to understand the purpose of these federal holidays and to observe them and pay respect and honor to those that they are meant for...and I think teaching that early to our children is important.

Memorial Day is a day that we take a moment and remember those who have sacrificed everything to ensure the rest of us can live in a free country. In January 2007, however, Memorial Day took on a whole new meaning....

Cole was serving in Iraq at the time, with the (then) 1-111th Aviation Razorback Medevac. For those that don't know, Cole serves in the Arkansas National Guard as a Blackhawk Medevac pilot. He has served three year+ long tours overseas, and has performed numerous search and rescue operations on US soil, including rooftop rescues after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. (I am just a LITTLE proud of him!!!) So Cole was in Iraq, and we were engaged at the time. It was a weekend. A Saturday. I don't remember what time it was here, but I know that it was during the day- late morning or early afternoon. I had been instant messaging with Cole. Now if you know anyone who has served overseas, you know communication is not always the best. I would get an email from him every few days, and a 15 minute phone call once a week. But that was usually it. This was before magicjack and Skype came onto the scene. It just so happened on that day that his Internet was working really well and he was able to keep a connection to IM with me. And being a Saturday, I was off work.

We were chatting, not about anything in particular. The wedding, his leave, how things were there, what I was doing at work. The usual stuff for most people, but conversation that was so precious to us. All of the sudden, in the middle of a message, I saw something like this... "I have to go. I am okay. I love you." And I knew. Something had happened. Something bad. When someone dies in a war zone, all communication is cut off for those connected, so that the families have proper notification and rumors are not spread. Totally understandable. And I thank the Lord all the time that He allowed us to be chatting (a VERY rare occurrence during that deployment) when we heard the news, and I knew that he was okay.

After he logged off, I immediately clicked over to CNN and saw it. My heart literally hurt. A deadly blackhawk crash. 12 aboard, all believed dead. Helicopter from Arkansas National Guard. I knew that my love was safe. But I knew that for some women not far from me, their life had taken a tragic and unbelievable turn that would change them forever. I was physically ill after I read the story. I sobbed in my mom's arms, my heart breaking for the newly widowed wives, children who would never see their daddy again, parents and siblings who would soon get the news...

The helicopter, call sign "Easy 40" had been shot down. It was an assault bird from Arkansas. The crew were friends and acquaintances of my husband and his father (who also was a pilot with the ARNG).

We see so often on the news that more troops have died. But until it hits close to home, I don't think we give it a second thought. I never did until I met Cole. Now every soldier that is reported fallen, I pray for his or her family- and thank the good Lord that it wasn't my husband. Because it so easily could have been.

My grandfather, Paw Jim, was a Marine in WWII, and was on Guadalcanal. My grandmother has a picture of his unit before and after the war. Before, there were probably 200-300 of them. After, maybe 30. Heartbreaking. This country is founded on the blood of those who sacrificed for our freedom. Please do not forget to take a moment to remember them. Not just this weekend, but every day.

For those that are interested, here is the story of Easy 40's final flight. Get a tissue....

US Features

Black Hawk down heroes
By Pamela Hess Feb 16, 2007, 17:48 GMT

BAGHDAD, Iraq (UPI) -- Twelve U.S. soldiers died Jan. 20 when their Black Hawk helicopter was shot down northeast of Baghdad.

A U.S. Army press release details their names, hometowns and ages but it does not tell what happened that day. That is left to their friends, who protected and avenged them but in the end could not save them.

It was a day time flight for this National Guard unit, 1st Battalion, 131st Aviation Regiment of the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade. It was a dangerous but routine mission to ferry soldiers from one base to another. Black Hawks are the safest means of getting around Iraq. Vastly more soldiers are killed by roadside bombs than anything else in Iraq. Getting them up in the air is the easiest way to avoid them.

Black Hawks fly in pairs. On Jan. 20 Easy 71 was the lead aircraft in the formation.

'I remember we were doing an ordinary transit mission, a routine mission carrying passengers across Iraq,' said 1st Lt. Craig D. Neely, 25, the lead pilot on Easy 71.

Easy 40 was flying behind when it was hit by machine gun fire from three insurgents in the back of a truck below them.

'We heard (Maj. Michael Taylor, the company commander) talking to (his) aircraft. He yelled out he was hit; there was no question in his voice that they were hit. Myself and Sgt. Evans were able to see him and see his aircraft,' Neely said.

Sgt. Terry L. Evans, 33, is one of Easy 71`s gunners.

'We saw the aircraft get hit initially. I saw they were in trouble. I told (pilot-in-command Chief Warrant Officer Max Timmons) -- I told him they were hit. I immediately started returning fire and Mr. Timmons banked left toward Easy 40.

'Easy 40 was on fire and we knew they were in trouble. We had moved into a position where we could possibly help them if they went down. The aircraft impacted the ground. That`s when I told Mr. Timmons and Lt. Neely to put our aircraft on the ground so we could go secure the aircraft,' Evans said.

They landed 75 yards from the burning helicopter but Evans and gunner Specialist David L. Carnahan, 33, jumped out before the bird was even on the ground. Armed with just pistols, the two raced to Easy 40 to rescue the wounded and protect their aircraft from ground attack.

But everyone on board - four crew and eight passengers -- was dead.

They ran around the aircraft to see if they could pull bodies out. They couldn`t. Evans went back to Easy 71 for his rifle and then returned to Carnahan and the burning helicopter.

'We were going to attempt to get (Maj.) Taylor`s body out,' he said.

Unspeakable things happen to the bodies of dead American soldiers here if they are not protected on the battlefield. Evans and Carnahan would not allow that to that to happen. The two, with their rifles and pistols, set up a defensive perimeter.

It was instinct that drove them out of their helicopter and onto the killing ground.

'You don`t think about people shooting at you,' said Carnahan. 'For me it was a pretty traumatic experience -- to watch a helo go down with people from my unit. You don`t think about yourself at the moment. You think about the people on the other aircraft.'

By this time, two other Black Hawks flying had received Lt. Neely`s mayday call. They were overhead.

Easy 53, commanded by Chief Warrant Officer Jerry D. Sartin, 41, and flown by CW3 Michael Hodges, 37, was just a minute behind Easy 40 on the same flight path.

'We started to land to lend aid and assistance when we noticed a truck moving at a high speed,' said Sartin. 'We took off to engage that vehicle.'

Black Hawks are not attack helicopters. The machine guns that protrude from either side are meant for self-defense.

'We practice aerial gunnery (on a range) at least once a year. The only difference is the targets at the range don`t shoot back,' said Staff Sgt. Gary L. Smith, 32.

Easy 53 made five passes around the truck which was now firing on them with the same weapon that brought down Easy 40. After the first pass, one of the insurgents pulled out a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

'He was neutralized,' said Sartin.

This was one of Smith`s first combat engagements.

'It`s nothing that you really think about. It`s more of an instinct. We are there to protect our brothers. We will do anything it takes. If it means putting ourselves in the line of fire to attack them that`s part of what it means to be a soldier,' he said.

'When we started making our runs on the truck I really wasn`t thinking. It was more just acting out, engaging the truck, following up targets. When the weapon was out of ammo, the actions of reloading, getting the guns back out the window when it was your turn to fire again engage the enemy. There really wasn`t much time to think,' he said.

His first response was sadness at seeing Easy 40 hit and smoking, then anger when he heard the mayday call and realized it was an aircraft in his own battalion. Then adrenaline took over.

'Once we started engaging the truck all that flew out the window and we paid attention to engaging targets,' Smith said.

The Black Hawk gunners killed the three shooters during a 15-minute fight.

Apache attack aircraft arrived just minutes into the battle, allowing the two Black Hawks in Easy 53`s flight to land with Easy 71.

'We had that place swarming. The enemy had nowhere to run,' Neely said.

The crew and soldiers on board formed a defensive perimeter around the four helicopters now on the ground while Evans and Carnahan did what they could to put out the fire and pull their friends from Easy 40.

Ground forces were on their way to secure the scene, but it would take time to get there. The route in had been thoroughly booby trapped with improvised explosive devices, an Army official said this week.

The Black Hawks were running low on fuel. With Apaches overhead protecting the site and ground forces on their way, they decided to take off together, leaving the 12 men on Easy 40 in others` hands.

They flew together to the U.S. air base at Balad where they delivered their passengers, completing their mission.

'The crew of Easy 40 is very brave and they did heroic things,' said Neely, naming and memorializing each of the downed crew. '(Maj.) Taylor was our company commander from Arkansas. I`m a pretty young pilot. I`ve only been flying for two years and we flew together quite often.'

'Capt. Sean Lyerly was at the controls,' he said.

'They made every effort to talk to us, to let us know what was going on. They were controlling that aircraft to the ground,' Neely said. 'We saw them smoking and burning and heard (Maj.) Taylor`s voice on the radio, talking to Capt. Lyerly, controlling that aircraft.'

'(Sgt. Maj.) Thomas Warren and Sgt. First Class Gary Brown, the crew members in the back, were doing all that they could as well,' he said.

'The crew of Easy 40 went down fighting. They are the true heroes in this. There is nothing we can do to bring them back. But we can make sure the world knows these guys were total professionals,' said 1/131 battalion commander Lt. Col. Zachary Maner.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for re-posting this article. My 1SG was on Easy 40 & I searched for this article and found it here. He was a really great guy & I was thinking of him & wanted to read this again. Thanks, take care.