News: Combined Joint Task Force — Horn of Africa members honor fallen brethren
Story by Staff Sgt. Ronald Lafosse
DJIBOUTI -- Three CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crews assigned to the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464 here transported 58 personnel from Combined Joint Task Force — Horn of Africa and Camp Lemonnier Nov. 11, 2009 to a ceremony honoring servicemembers killed in a bombing accident in 2003 and an aircraft collision in 2006.
June 23, 2003, two CH-53 crews were watching a B-52 practice bombing range from an adjacent mountain top when the unexpected happened. One of the M117 general purpose bombs exploded close to the mountain top injuring 8 and killing Marine Capt. Seth Michaud. In another incident Feb. 17, 2006 two CH-53 helicopters were flying a training mission over the Gulf of Aden when the helicopters collided into each other injuring two and killing eight Marines and two Airmen.
Marine Capt. Thomas Donohoo, the aviation safety officer for HMH-464 assigned to CJTF-HOA, organized the memorial flight to honor those servicemembers.
"It is important to HMH-464 and HMH-461 being that at these sites our brethren made the ultimate sacrifice," said Donohoo.
The first stop of the remembrance flight was at the mountain top next to the Godoria Range where Michaud died. Marines, Sailors and Airmen circled the wreckage quietly. The bent, twisted and scorched remnants of that day were a silent reminder of what was lost that day more than six years ago.
"For me, as a chaplain, it was a sacred time — to stand near the wreckage of the two burned out helicopters and hear the story of what happened," said Navy Chaplain (Lt. Cmdr.) Robert Cain, assigned to Camp Lemonnier.
The memorial flight and ceremony were significant events for Lt. Col. Rick Bogin, HMH-464 officer in charge. Michaud was a student under Bogin at the Marine Helicopter Training Squadron 302 at Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, N.C.
"This is my third tour here since the accident and I have gone to that location each time to pay tribute and say a prayer in his memory," said Bogin. Camp Lemonnier's Expeditionary Medical Facility was named in Michaud's memory.
After all servicemembers disembarked the helicopters, Gunnery Sgt. Hector Rivera, a member of the HMH-464, told what had happened on that mountain top next to the Godoria Range. Afterward, Cain offered a few inspirational words on behalf of the fallen.
"To remember makes us realize how special life is and to be cherished, especially being in the military and deployed thousands of miles from family and friends," said Cain.
When the ceremony concluded, servicemembers crossed the rocky terrain back to the helicopters where they flew to the northern coast of Djibouti. It was there, more than three and a half years ago, that servicemembers lost more of their brethren.
Along the coast, CJTF-HOA and Camp Lemonnier members walk the rocky cliffs as sounds of waves crashing below fill the air. Few talked while observing the waters of the Gulf of Aden.
"Standing on the coast was kind of surreal, its beauty made it difficult to feel like something so tragic could happen in a place like that," said Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Howell, 449th Air Expeditionary Group chief, who flew on the remembrance flight. "I felt it was very important that we repay our Marines and Airmen with our thoughts and prayers and to always remember the ultimate sacrifice they made."
Eleven servicemembers made the ultimate sacrifice and through this flight and ceremony that sacrifice has not been forgotten.
"As long as HMH-464 and our sister squadron from home, HMH-461, who Capt Michaud was a member of, deploy here, you can bet that we will carry the torch of their memories and attempt vehemently to make that trek to pay our respects," said Bogin.
One Marine died in the June 23, 2003 bombing accident:
Capt. Seth Michaud, 27, of Hudson, Mass. was with the HMH 461, Marine Air Group 29, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at New River, N.C.
Two Airmen and eight Marines died in the Feb. 17, 2006 crash:
Senior Airman Alecia Good, 23, of Broadview Heights, Ohio was with the 92nd Communications Squadron at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.
Staff Sgt. Luis M. Melendez Sanchez, 33, of Bayamon, Puerto Rico was with the 1st Communications Squadron at Langley Air Force Base, Va.
The Marines were assigned to HMH-464, Marine Air Group 29, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at New River, N.C.:
1st Lt. Brandon R. Dronet, 33, of Erath, La.
Sgt. James F. Fordyce, 22, of Newton Square, Pa.
Lance Cpl. Samuel W. Large Jr., 21, of Villa Rica, Ga.
Sgt. Donnie Leo F. Levens, 25, of Long Beach, Miss.
Cpl. Matthieu Marcellus, 31, of Gainesville, Fla.
Sgt. Jonathan E. McColley, 23, of Gettysburg, Pa.
Lance Cpl. Nicholas J. Sovie, 20, of Ogdensburg, N.Y.
Capt. Bryan D. Willard, 33, of Hummelstown, Pa.