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Airmen honored at Arctic Thunder

Posted 8/1/2010   Updated 8/1/2010 Email story   Print story


by John Pennell

8/1/2010 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska  -- Commander's of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's 3rd Wing and the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing spoke to local media here this morning, discussing the weekend's Arctic Thunder air show and Wednesday's tragic C-17 crash which killed four crewmembers.

Maj. Michael Freyholtz, 34, from Hines, Minn.; and Maj. Aaron Malone, 36, from
Anchorage, Alaska, both pilots assigned to the Alaska Air National Guard's 249th Airlift Squadron; Capt. Jeffrey Hill, 31, from York, Pa., a pilot assigned to Elmendorf's 517th Airlift Squadron; and Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Cicardo, 47, from Anchorage, 249th Airlift Squadron loadmaster; were killed in the C-17 crash.

The 249th AS is part of the 176th Wing, while the 517th AS is part of 3rd Wing.
Speaking near the flight line where the air show was about to begin, Col. Jack McMullen, 3rd Wing commander, said it was a difficult decision to proceed with the event after the tragedy, but he felt it was the correct one.

"As you know, it has been a tough few days, and it's going to be a tough weekend as we work our way through this," he explained. "I know there's been some question as to whether or not we should even have this air show this weekend, but I can tell you that I and my staff have really thought this thing through.

"We went through a deliberate process of 'Is this the right thing to do,' and I think it is," Colonel McMullen explained. "I made the decision and I think it's right for the wing.

"We are mourning the loss of four Airmen, but we need to start moving forward into the healing process and press on and continue to do our jobs," he continued. "We discussed this with the families, and not only were the families OK with doing the air show, they were very supportive and said 'You have to do this air show.'"

Colonel McMullen said he thought the four would have approved also.

"These four individuals were Airmen," he said. "They lived, dreamed, ate and thought about flying all the time. By all means we did the right thing."

The colonel pointed out a memorial display has been set up near a C-17 at the show to allow military and community members to pay their respects to the fallen aviators. Individuals and families were filing past the display, which included pictures of the Sitka-43 crew, many pausing and leaving bundles of flowers.

He said allowing the public to pay their respects at the memorial was an important part of the healing process.

"Here at this base, in Anchorage, there really is a sense of community and that's why we wanted to have the air show in the first place," the colonel explained. "I wanted to have an opportunity for the local public to come out, and if they want to pay respect and see the photos, by all means, these four individuals were part of the community."

Colonel McMullen said the investigation into the cause of the crash is continuing.

"It's going to be a slow, methodical process," he explained. "It's probably going to take at least 30 days before we have a good idea what actually happened to cause this airplane to go down."

Both officers said the air show is a chance for the military community to give back to a civilian community which provides unparalleled support for the troops.

"A lot of the folks in the community don't get out on the base and don't really get to see what we do," Colonel McMullen said. "This is our chance to give back; to bring them out and show them."

Brig. Gen. Chuck Foster, commander of the 176th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard, pointed to Alaska's large retiree population as a source of military support and pride.

"Alaska has a huge veteran population, about 77,000 veterans choose Alaska for their home," he said. "Alaska has a community that really supports their military members, and this is a chance for the 3rd Wing and the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson community to kind of show our public what it is we do.

"We are, of course, going to remember in the back of our minds - many of us in the front of our minds - the tragic event on Wednesday when we lost four American heroes," General Foster continued. "It's a terrible tragedy for these families - it's the worst possible news you can get.

"They are being surrounded by their friends, their family and by members of the squadron," he continued. "The Air Force, the Air National Guard, have extensive support networks we bring into play in tragic times like this to make sure that this bad situation can best be taken care of. We can't make it go away, but we're going to everything we can to make it easier for the families to bear this burden."

General Foster said having the air show could help families, friends and co-workers deal with the deaths of the four Airmen, as well as provide inspiration to a civilian community mourning with their military counterparts.

"There's going to be a lot of inspiration here," he said. "People, especially young children, are going to see things to inspire them. They're going to be very proud of what their Air Force and Army do every day.

"The recovery from a tragedy is very individual," the general continued. "To the extent that this might be something that would help people realize that these Airmen were experts at what they did, and be able to see that that mission still continues - that mission they dedicated their lives to still continues - might be something very important for people to see."

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