Soldiers who died in Mediterranean helicopter crash had military ties that spanned generations
Stars and Stripes November 13, 2023
The five special operations soldiers killed Friday during a training flight in the eastern Mediterranean Sea were a mix of combat-tested aviation troops with deep family ties to the military, defense officials said Monday.
The troops, all of whom were special operations aviation soldiers, were killed during routine aerial refueling training when their MH-60 Black Hawk experienced an emergency, resulting in the crash.
Their names are Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen R. Dwyer, 38, of Clarksville, Tenn.; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Shane M. Barnes, 34, of Sacramento, Calif.; Staff Sgt. Tanner W. Grone, 26, of Gorham, N.H.; Sgt. Andrew P. Southard, 27, of Apache Junction, Ariz.; and Sgt. Cade M. Wolfe, 24, of Mankato, Minn.
The Army’s Combat Readiness Center is investigating the crash. There are no indications it was caused by enemy or hostile actions, the Pentagon said.
All of the soldiers were assigned to 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) out of Fort Campbell, Ky.
“This is devastating news that reverberates across the entire Special Operations community,” Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, said in a statement Monday. “Every loss is tough, but in this case, service to the nation is truly a family business and it’s hard to express the amount of sorrow that we all feel right now.”
Braga said the soldiers come from “rare patriotic families with deep military service ties that span multiple generations.”
Dwyer received his commission in 2009 from the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. He served as a field artillery commissioned officer for six years before becoming a warrant officer and graduating from flight school in 2018.
He deployed on numerous combat missions, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Barnes was a 2011 graduate of Gonzaga University who attended flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala., and served as a Black Hawk pilot in South Korea. He also was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and missions in Iraq, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and other valor awards.
Grone enlisted in 2017 and deployed multiple times to Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, as well as Afghanistan.
His parents said their son took great pride in being a soldier.
“This is so incredibly hard to deal with but the only positive thing for us is knowing that our son totally loved what he was doing and was the happiest he had ever been,” Steve and Erica Grone wrote in a Facebook reply to Braga’s statement.
Southard joined the Army in 2015, as a Black Hawk repairer. He also was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Wolfe joined the Army in 2018, also as a Black Hawk repair specialist.
“Their loss has left an indelible void within this regiment that will never be filled,” Col. Roger P. Waleski Jr., the aviation regiment’s commander, said in a statement.
The Army special operations aviation team was among the thousands of troops the Pentagon has dispatched to the Mediterranean region and Middle East since the Israel-Hamas war began last month.
The aviators were on alert should Joint Special Operations Command elements, including the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, be called upon to help evacuate Americans in the region, The New York Times reported Sunday.
Navy warships, including two aircraft carrier strike groups, also are among the forces operating in the vicinity of Israel.
President Joe Biden on Sunday praised the fallen Army aviation soldiers, who were among those who “willingly take risks to keep the American people safe and secure.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin, in a separate statement Sunday, said that he and the Pentagon “mourn the tragic loss of five U.S. service members.”
“We will remember their service and their sacrifice,” he said.