Aviano joins to remember helo crash victims
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Some had to walk only a few steps. Others drove from Vicenza or places farther away, such as Milan and Rome. A few flew from Germany or crossed the Atlantic Ocean from the States.
All of them gathered Thursday to remember six U.S. servicemembers who died Nov. 8 when a Black Hawk helicopter plummeted to the ground on the banks of the Piave River.
Killed in the crash were: Air Force Capt. Cartize B. Durham, Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert D. Rogers, Air Force Staff Sgt. Mark A. Spence, Senior Airman Kenneth P. Hauprich, Army Capt. Christian P. Skoglund and Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Davidangelo F. Alvarez. Five other servicemembers were injured.
About 50 seats were reserved in Hangar 1 for family members of the four airmen and two soldiers. All six were married. Three had children, including one with a newborn. Spence’s wife, Elena, is expecting the couple’s first child in the spring.
“These six men were proud members of our nation’s military. Our Army. Our Air Force,” said Brig. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the 31st Fighter Wing and the first speaker.
He was followed by Col. Roberto Sardo, the Italian base commander, and the respective unit commanders of each servicemember. The speeches got more emotional as friends and colleagues took to the podium.
Staff Sgt. Salina Harrison talked about Durham’s deployment to Balad Air Base in Iraq earlier this year. A former enlisted soldier in the Army, the Air Force officer cared about his troops, she said.
“He believed in you, even when you didn’t believe in yourself,” she said.
He was a member of the 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron at Aviano and served as materials management flight commander. Durham is survived by his wife, Shumeka, and two sons, Caleb and Christian.
Staff Sgt. Eric Bowles said Rogers “was a straight shooter, telling you exactly what he thought about something and not holding anything back.” Also, “he had a crazy laugh that would just light up the whole room.”
Rogers was the 31st Maintenance Squadron’s maintenance professional of the year in 2005. He is survived by his wife, Lanea, and son, Isaiah.
Senior Airman Dannon Rogers said Spence was a top troubleshooter for the 31st Maintenance Squadron. “Between his intelligence and stubbornness, he’d always find a way. …”
He said Spence was a whiz with computers and always looked for bargains on the Internet.
“He’s the first guy I ever met to buy toothpaste online to save a buck,” Rogers said.
Senior Airman Cody Farris said Hauprich, another 31st Maintenance Squadron member, was heavily into sports, but even more so into his wife, Kara, and daughter, Emma Grace. No matter what the season, he “always carried random (sports) equipment in the back of his car … it was a mess.”
Still, Hauprich often failed to take his physical training gear to work. Farris said it was just an excuse for Hauprich to go home and say hello to his family while picking up his clothes.
Phil Skoglund said his son, who commanded the Army’s Company G, 52nd Aviation Regiment at Aviano, “brought incredible warmth and definitely unpredictable excitement into our lives.”
He said his son had been serving far from their home in Wisconsin in recent years, but they’d always depart from one another with a “See you later!”
“That’s no different now. It’s just that Christian has left the world, so it might be a little longer.”
Christian Skoglund is survived by his wife, Elizabeth.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Tuavargas said he and Alvarez attended warrant officer school together and came to Aviano afterward. They eventually studied the Bible together.
“I knew him as ‘Mr. Detail,’ ” he said. “He could clean his truck so thoroughly that you might feel uncomfortable just going to lunch in it.”
Alvarez is survived by his wife, Rachael.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation. Several Italian rescuers who responded to the scene attended the ceremony, along with local military and law enforcement officials, six Italian mayors and the president and prefect of Pordenone province. Italian air force Maj. Gen. Gianfranco Camperi came from Rome.
Gen. Tom Hobbins, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, and USAFE Command Chief Master Sgt. Gary Coleman attended, as did Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney McKinley and Brig. Gen. William Uhle, assistant vice commander of the 3rd Air Force.
Maj. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) and SETAF Command Sgt. Maj. Earl Rice led a large Army contingent.