Empathy was hallmark of airman killed in Germany crash, co-workers say
Stars and Stripes September 27, 2023
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Colleagues of Senior Airman Christopher Lee Rocha who spoke at his memorial service Tuesday recalled him as a man who demonstrated an uncanny compassion for others, whether he knew them or not.
An alarm monitor for the 569th U.S. Forces Police Squadron at Vogelweh Air Station, Rocha died Sept. 4 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland, where he had been transferred after a head-on collision Aug. 18 near Ramstein Air Base.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation, officials with the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein said Tuesday.
The 24-year-old from El Paso, Texas, had been selected for promotion to staff sergeant. The hourlong service, which was held at the Vogelweh chapel, was livestreamed for his family in the U.S.
Airman 1st Class Cameron Thompson recounted a story from a night he and Rocha were working the gate in family housing at Vogelweh. They noticed a man stumbling from a taxi up the access road.
Although it was Thompson’s turn to scan IDs, Rocha came with him to make sure everything was OK, he said. Rocha took the time to ask the man how his night was going and learned that he was going through a divorce.
He assured him that it was going to be all right and offered words of comfort, Thompson said.
“If you think there is someone who needs help, like that man did that night, be like Rocha,” he said.
Senior Airman Mathew Sayer said Rocha was the first person he grew close to when he arrived at Ramstein. Rocha often cheered him up during those tough early months, when Sayer said he hated his room, the area, even Ikea.
“We’re going to miss the smile, the adventures, the goofy personality,” he said.
Base defenders from the 569th and 86th Security Forces Squadron, as well as German police who work with base security personnel, filled the rows of pews in the Vogelweh Chapel to pay tribute. Rocha was honored with a 21-gun salute and a moment of silence.
Lt. Col. Brian Gilliam, the 569th commander, described Rocha as “a caring soul.”
In addition to his capacity for empathy, Rocha was praised for the dedication he showed to his craft and his co-workers.
“He shined a positive light on myself and our entire flight,” Thompson said. “No matter what he was going through ... he never, ever failed to come to work without a huge smile and ready to attack the night.”
Rocha is survived by his parents, his wife, a grandmother and four brothers.