‘Big Windy’ soldiers reflect on loss of their comrades in CH-47 crash
April 13, 2005
GIEBELSTADT, Germany — Last week’s confusion and shock have given way to a numb sadness as this little Army base in northern Bavaria prepares to mourn its dead.
The Pentagon announced Monday what most of Giebelstadt’s military family already knew, or at least feared: the 18 victims of the April 6 crash of a CH-47 in eastern Afghanistan included five soldiers from Company F, 159th Aviation Regiment — better known by its nickname, “Big Windy.”
Four of the five Big Windy soldiers have been positively identified, the Pentagon said. Spc. Michael Spivey, 21, of Fayetteville, N.C., was still listed as missing as of late Tuesday.
The unit had begun its yearlong deployment only a month before. Most of its members also had served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
Friends reflected on the little things they would remember. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Clint Prather, 32, of Cheney, Wash., had been a champion high school distance runner.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Ayala, 24, of New York, had taught himself to play guitar and wrote his own songs.
Staff Sgt. Charles R. Sanders Jr., 29, of Charleston, Mo., enjoyed wrestling and the outdoors.
Pfc. Pendelton L. Sykes II, 25, of Chesapeake, Va., cooked like a gourmet.
Spivey lived for the nightlife.
All of them loved to fly.
“It’s a tragedy,” said Pfc. Lakeshia Teel, 20, of Clinton, N.C., “but we’re still keeping on with the mission. It was hard on a couple of us, because we knew them.”
News of the incident broke shortly after the Chinook crashed during a sandstorm 80 miles south of Kabul. CNN ran television footage of the burning wreckage, but with few details.
“It was difficult. We have 155 spouses back here. As soon as they heard “Chinook” and “Afghanistan,” they pretty much panicked,” said Sgt. 1st Class Philip Paniagua, 33, of San Antonio, the company’s noncommissioned officer in charge. “They started to come by the unit. And our phones rang off the hook.”
Until the next morning, the frustrated rear detachment knew no more than the frightened families. But as soon as he saw the news, said the rear detachment commander, Capt. Adam Kauffmann, “In my mind, at that time, I already knew it was Big Windy.”
By Thursday afternoon, chaplains and casualty-assistance officers from the 12th Aviation Brigade (the company’s parent unit) had visited three widows living in Giebelstadt. Big Windy soldiers spent all day Friday calling other families in the unit to let them know their loved ones were safe.
Several of Giebelstadt’s aviation units had deployed to Afghanistan with Big Windy last month.
But soldiers and families from the 69th Air Defense Artillery, which remained behind, helped out with child care and mountains of food. So did members of the 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, which lost four of its soldiers in the weather-related crash of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter two years ago in Kuwait.
“All I’ve heard is, ‘What can I do to help?’” Kauffmann said.
This week, Big Windy’s troops are in Kitzingen, Germany, running small-arms training for all of 12th Brigade’s rear-detachment troops. They could have begged off but decided against it.
“I think it helps,” Paniagua said. “We definitely don’t want to just sit around and dwell on the situation.”
The unit is planning a memorial service for 1 p.m. Thursday at the Giebelstadt Community Chapel, one day after the Big Windy troops in Afghanistan hold theirs.
“We are hurting. Our hearts are broken,” said Staff Sgt. Chris Weeks, 32, of Channelview, Texas. “But still, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”