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Aviation unit honors lives of crew lost in Afghanistan crash

Email   Print   Share By Heather Graham-Ashley, Sentinel News Editor
August 18, 2011 | Across DoD
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The fallen crosses of five U.S. Soldiers killed Aug. 6 in a CH-47 Chinook helicopter crash rest near a similar helicopter in a hangar in Olathe, Kan., Sunday at a memorial ceremony honoring them. The Soldiers killed were: Chief Warrant Officer 4 David R. Carter, 47, of Centennial, Colo., assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), Aurora, Colo.; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan J. Nichols, 31, of Hays, Kan, assigned to the 7-158th Avn. Regt. (GSAB), New Century, Kan.; Staff Sgt. Patrick D. Hamburger, 30, of Lincoln, Neb., assigned to the 2-135th Avn. Regt. (GSAB), Grand Island, Neb.; Sgt. Alexander J. Bennett, 24, of Tacoma, Wash., assigned to the 7-158th Avn. Regt. (GSAB), New Century, Kan.; and Spc. Spencer C. Duncan, 21, of Olathe, Kan., assigned to the 7-158th Avn. Regt. (GSAB), New Century, Kan. Heather Graham-Ashley, Sentinel News Editor
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A CH-47 Chinook helicopter serves as a backdrop for a memorial service in Olathe, Kan., Sunday for the air crew killed Aug. 6 when their CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed in Afghanistan. The ceremony was attended by friends and Family members of the fallen troops as well as Patriot Guard Riders, members of a local Boy Scout troop, the Gardner, Kan., Fire Department and members of an area Veterans of Foreign Wars Post. Heather Graham-Ashley, Sentinel News Editor
In early August, information about their deaths saturated the news, but Saturday and Sunday was about how they lived.

Five Soldiers – Chief Warrant Officer 4 David Carter, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan Nichols, Staff Sgt. Patrick Hamburger, Sgt. Alex Bennett and Spc. Spencer Duncan – were killed Aug. 6 when their CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed in Wardak province, Afghanistan.

Twenty-five Sailors and Airmen and eight Afghans also perished in the crash, the largest single loss of American troops since Operation Enduring Freedom began.

Their loss was mourned and their lives were honored during a ceremony Saturday at Comanche Chapel on Fort Hood during the unit’s drill weekend and at another ceremony Sunday in Olathe, Kan.

In Olathe, a ceremony reminiscent of the one at Fort Hood was held in the unit’s hangar and was attended by friends and Family members of the fallen pilots and crew of “Extortion 17,” as well as Patriot Guard Riders, members of a local Boy Scout troop, the Gardner, Kan., Fire Department and members of an area Veterans of Foreign Wars Post.

The five fallen were deployed to Afghanistan with the Spartans of Company B, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, which is headquartered at Fort Hood. They were sons, fathers and husbands who loved serving their country.

At both ceremonies, Lt. Col. James Fitzgerald, battalion commander, 7-158th Avn. Regt., eulogized his fallen Spartans, paralleling their bravery and warrior skills with those of the warriors in ancient Sparta.

“They loved their Families. They loved what they were doing and who they were doing it with,” Fitzgerald said. “They loved their freedom.”

As Army reserve-component warrior citizens, Bennett, Carter, Duncan, Hamburger and Nichols chose civilian careers and activities while also walking the path of warriors, the battalion commander said.

They overcame any fear to save others in need.

“They did not lose their lives, they gave them,” Fitzgerald said. “They loved their Families and their brothers-in-arms when they were in need enough to put aside their own lives and to serve others.”

The five Spartans were different in several aspects, but they had at least one commonality. All had a deep love for serving their country.

Carter was an experienced aviator with more than 4,500 flight hours and more than 700 of those hours flown in combat throughout his 28-year military career.

He was a gentle soul and a man of integrity, Maj. Steve Gambichler said.

A native Kansan, Carter was a senior instructor pilot with the Colorado National Guard.

Echoing the words of a childhood friend of Carter, Gambichler said, “He was the kind of man the rest of us will aspire to be.”

In addition to the deployment to Afghanistan, Carter previously served in Iraq and in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

He leaves his wife, Laura, and two children, Kyle and Kaitlen.

Nichols was a skilled pilot, an exceptional officer and a great friend, Lt. Col. Richard Sherman said. Sherman served with Nichols since the pilot was a warrant officer 1.

“Bryan left us as he lived – serving his country and flying Chinook helicopters,” Sherman said.

He came to the unit straight out of flight school and eager to fly. Good-natured and well – liked by his peers and crew members, Nichols never just thought about himself.

“He is part of one of my most painful and most cherished memories in my Army career,” Sherman said.

His wife Mary and 10-year-old son Braydon survive Nichols. Braydon’s desire for the public to know about his father has touched the nation.

Hamburger enlisted in 1998, shortly after graduating from his Lincoln, Neb., high school. He volunteered to join the Spartans in Afghanistan.

Known as “Patty” to his friends, Hamburger was planning to marry his fiancee Candy Reagan following the deployment.

Hamburger was posthumously promoted to staff sergeant, according to the Department of Defense.

He leaves behind his daughter, Payton Elizabeth.

Forward and honest, sometimes painfully so, people always knew where they stood with Bennett, Capt. Matthew Williams said. The 23-year-old flight engineer could find humor in any situation.

Known for his love of working on cars and a proclivity for pranks, Bennett changed over the last year, Williams said.

“He had grown up,” the captain said. “Alex attacked life with unmatched gusto.”

To his platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Kirk Kuykendall, Bennett was like a son.

“He loved to eat and play board games,” Kuykendall said.

The two first met in 2009 at Fort Sill, Okla. Kuykendall was new to the unit and Bennett was one of the first to introduce himself. Later, Bennett followed Kuykendall to become a Spartan.

At the Kansas ceremony, Kuykendall also recalled Bennett as a prankster whose hijinks often got him in some trouble, but kept his friends entertained.

“He paid the price for his unit’s high morale,” Kuykendall said.

The platoon sergeant was medically evacuated from Afghanistan about six weeks ago when he was injured in a Chinook crash on June 25. Nichols was one of the pilots on the aircraft, but he was not wounded.

Kuykendall kept tabs on Bennett and heard that the young man had matured during the deployment and was thriving.

“He knew how important the mission was and that it had to continue, even at a time of loss,” Kuykendall said. “He inspired a group of very young Soldiers to stay in the fight when things were getting tough.”

Bennett lived the company motto of “With it or on it,” and many tributes to his memory bear the expression.

“Alex died a patriot and a hero,” Kuykendall said.

He is survived by his mother, Kim Robinson, and his father, Lt. Col. Doug Bennett.

A proud “good ole boy,” Duncan enlisted shortly after graduating high school in 2008.

He loved playing guitar and going “muddin,” Staff Sgt. Craig Wehr said during the memorial at Fort Hood.

Duncan’s friends said he was never meant to go to school.

“He was made for the Army,” Chief Warrant Officer 5 Michael Walsh said at the Kansas ceremony. “He was made to be a mechanic.”

From taking apart and then reassembling the TV remote as a child to working on vehicles and Chinooks, Duncan “had a natural ability to take anything apart and put it back together,” Walsh said.

More than anything else, Duncan loved serving his country.

“He wanted to fight for the rights of others so they wouldn’t have to fight for themselves,” Walsh said.

Duncan passed along his love for service to his younger brother Tanner who is completing basic training and will soon join the Spartans as well, continuing his brother’s legacy.

His parents and younger brothers, Calder and Tanner survive Duncan.

During both traditional military memorial ceremonies, the 1st Cavalry Division honor guard fired a 21-gun salute, and a lone bugler from the division played taps, which brought tears to the eyes of many in attendance. Members of the Navy SEALs also had a presence at the ceremonies.

Carter, Nichols, Hamburger, Bennett and Duncan left a heritage of service to the nation and selfless brotherhood, putting others before one’s self, Fitzgerald said. He urged others to continue what they started.

“We can pay them no greater honor than to cherish that sacrifice and legacy they died for, that of freedom,” Fitzgerald said. “We must make it clear we are committed to its preservation, whatever the cost.”
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