TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan – Friend and colleague. Mentor and role model. Son and daughter. Husband and wife. Mother and father. Airman and hero. These were just some of the words used to describe three fallen warriors.
Service members gathered for a memorial service May 9, 2013, at Transit Center at Manas to honor and pay respect to Capt. Mark T. “Tyler” Voss, Capt. Victoria A. “Tori” Pinckney, and Tech. Sgt. Herman “Tre” Mackey III.
The three airmen perished May 3, 2013, when their KC-135 Stratotanker crashed in northern Kyrgyzstan. All three were deployed to the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing's 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"The loss of these great airmen is a tragedy and our thoughts and prayers are with their families and Team Fairchild during this extremely difficult time," said Chief Master Sgt. Bryan Creager, 376 AEW command chief. "They were 'Liberandos,' warriors who gave their lives defending freedom, and I was extremely proud to see how the airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines of the Transit Center responded and assisted in the search and recovery. It provided a picture that is hard to describe, but one I will never forget, courtesy of some of America's finest."
More than 300 service members attended the memorial service for their fallen brothers and sister in arms.
"We celebrated the selfless service of three great airmen and Americans today," said Col. Corey Martin, 376 AEW commander. "I had the privilege to fly with Tyler, Tori, and Tre and I saw, first-hand, their relentless contribution to our nation. I am greatly saddened by their deaths and my deepest condolences go out to their families and to the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron."
While the memorial service was one filled with grief, it was an opportunity for those affected by the tragedy to begin the healing process.
"Although the loss of Tyler, Tori and Tre may today cause us to grieve, we gain endurance for tomorrow," said Lt. Col. James Mach, 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron commander, during the memorial service. "We gain the ability to rise above, to resist doubt, to persist in the face of fear. We are strengthened by the situation's trials. We move forward in accomplishing our mission. We persevere, above all else, defending our freedoms.
"Tyler, Tori and Tre are our guardians and will forever be our guardians," he continued. "They served with distinction as defenders for our nation. They answered every call selflessly and without reservation. It is through their sacrifice, and those before, we acquire this strength, resistance and persistence to persevere as we move forward in the face of troubles, overcome current and future challenges, continue our mission."
Mach encouraged everyone in the audience to honor and remember Voss, Pinckney and Mackey with fondness. They are forever in our lives, he said.
Voss, a native of Boerne, Texas, was a 2008 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, majoring in aeronautical engineering. He received his pilot's wings in March of 2010, becoming an aircraft commander three years later in March 2013. He is survived by his parents, Wayne and Marcy Voss, brother, Forest, and sister, Morgan.
Friends described Voss as a happy guy and someone who everyone loved.
"He loved life and made sure everybody around him was loving life too," said Capt. Zach Valdez, 22 EARS pilot and friend.
Valdez, who'd been friends with Voss for the last seven years, shared how Voss' friendly attitude once got the two of them in to a sold-out concert, forming memories he'll never forget.
"Everything always seems to work out when you are with Tyler," said Valdez. "It's hard to think that I'm not going to be able to see him anymore. His death was tragic, but his life was not in vain. Tyler was probably able to pack more in his 27 years of life than most people do in a lifetime. He lived a good life. Whether he was flying his plane, racing his car or making random trips to Seattle for gun shows … he was always happy. I'm going to miss Tyler – his laid back attitude, his insanely intelligent comments.
"The Air Force and America lost a great person," he said. "I know there are a lot of people that are hurting; it's terrible losing a friend. Tyler wouldn't want us to stand around and pout. He died doing what loved, for the people he loved."
Pinckney was a native of Palmdale, Calif. A 2008 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, she earned a Bachelor's Degree in systems engineering space systems, as well as a Master's Degree in psychology. She is survived by her husband, Richard Pinckney, and her seven-month-old son, Gabriel. She also leaves behind her parents, Michelle and Larry Castro, and two sisters, Nichol and Samantha Castro; her grandparents, Terry and Lt. Col. (Ret) Don Castro, and Josephine and Emil Grulkowski; mother-in-law Nina Pinckney and Wally Slate, and father-in-law Richard and his wife, Lorraine Pinckney; her three sisters-in-law, Christine, Stephanie and Jeanna Pinckney; as well as Tyler and Kevin Obrock and grandparents Anna Bull, Donald Bull and Virginia Hunt, and many aunts, uncles and cousins.
Pinckney is remembered as a devoted woman with an infectious smile who appreciated life's moments.
"I can't remember the first time I actually met Tori," said Capt. Tanya Hansen, 22nd EARS pilot and friend. "I don't remember the place, who I was with, or even the year. But I do remember her smile. She had an infectious smile that could light the room in an instant. It was a smile you could almost feel."
Hansen shared that Pinckney's number one priority was her family, evidenced by how she took every opportunity to talk about them. Friends say Pinckney's son, while looking more like his father, definitely has his mother's big, bright smile.
"I believe that sometimes angels walk among us. They visit for a short time to teach us, or remind us of something we may have forgotten," said Hansen. "Tori taught me to be grateful for each day, no matter the stress, uncertainty or frustration. She showed me how to live each moment, not for what it could be, but for what it was – a gift.
"I'm truly proud to have served alongside such an amazing and brave woman. Tori will be missed, but her memory will never be forgotten. She was a devoted wife, mother and friend, who is certainly smiling down on us from heaven."
Mackey, a native of Bakersfield, Calif., enlisted in the Air Force in 2001 as a boom operator. He later became a sensor operator for remotely piloted aircraft as part of career broadening, but returned to the KC-135 as a boom operator in 2012. He is survived by his wife, Megan Mackey, and his daughter, Payton. He also leaves behind his mother, Debbie Mackey; sisters, Beckah, Donna and Phyllicia; as well as brothers, Tristan and Yusef.
Senior Airman Derik Melson, a boom operator with the 22 EARS, had the distinct honor and privilege of having flown with each of the fallen airmen. For him, Mackey was not only a fellow boom operator; he was also a supervisor, friend and mentor.
"Tre was the type of guy that had a smile that could light up a room," Melson said. "He loved to laugh and crack jokes, often at my own expense."
Melson shared the story of his last flight with Mackey, in which Melson served as an instructor for Mackey. He recalls how, even after years out of the boom pod, Mackey's first contact refueling fighter jets was spot on. As Mackey completed the air refueling, he called to the pilots in the cockpit, "Pilot, boom. My instructor boom would like me to tell you that the boom is stowed and latched and that I'm leaving position."
"He emphasized those words – leaving position," said Melson. "Although Tre has left position, I know that he and the rest of the crew of Shell 77, Tyler and Tori, will never leave position right here – in all of our hearts."
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This work, Transit Center honors fallen heroes, by TSgt Rachel Martinez, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.