LSA Anaconda stadium named in honor of fallen airman
LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Iraq — In a brief, moving ceremony Wednesday, the outdoor stadium at LSA Anaconda was named in honor of an airman killed at the base in April.
Holt Memorial Stadium will honor the memory of Airman 1st Class Antoine J. Holt, 20, a humble, athletic Georgian, who died when a mortar round struck his tent on the morning of April 10.
“It is only fitting that this stadium, where servicemembers train will bear his name,” said Brig. Gen. Yves J. Fontaine, commander of the 1st Corps Support Command. “I am proud to honor him today.”
With that, about 200 military members, mostly airmen, watched as a plaque was unveiled that says the stadium is dedicated to Holt and “all fallen airmen of Balad Air Base, Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
Holt’s death would have been unusual in past wars and combat operations. A member of the 603rd Air Control Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he normally would have been miles away from the fight.
That has been the traditional Air Force task, providing the air power from a distant base. The only casualties were the pilots or crewmen who flew aircraft into battle.
But this is a different war. Holt is one of nine airmen to die in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Another 119 airmen have been wounded. Those are small numbers compared to Army and Marine losses, but substantial when considering the Air Force has a fraction of the troops in the area compared to the other branches.
This war may change the way the Air Force is viewed, said several airmen who attended the service.
“The perception always was, we send the pilots forward and everybody else stays back,” said Senior Master Sgt. Virgil Horsley of the 606th Air Control Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.
About 2,500 airmen live at Balad Air Base, which is connected to LSA Anaconda. They provide convoy security, go on patrols and share many of the dangers usually reserved for soldiers and Marines. About that many again are based in other places in Iraq doing jobs that put them in danger on a daily basis.
“I think it’s giving other services more of an understanding,” Horsley said. “Talking to some of the Army folks, they’re starting to see us in a different light.”
Serving alongside the other branches in the combat zone, said 1st Lt. Barry Veen of the 240th Civil Engineer Flight, emphasizes the unity of purpose and resolve.
Senior Airman Kyla Cavota of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing said this operation is putting Air Force members at risk just as it does other services.
“We’re more or less right along with them,” she said. “We’re at the front now.”
Placing Holt’s name on a stadium where the prevailing service is Army is one way to measure the changing perception.
“[He] was outstanding, as a person and an airman,” Holt’s commander at the time of his death, Lt. Col. Kristen Dolan, wrote in an e-mail response. “What impresses me most about him is the way he took care of others. He instinctively put his squadron mates ahead of himself.”
She wrote: “The entire unit felt Antoine’s loss very deeply. It was a privilege to serve with him, and I appreciate the fact that the leadership there has chosen to honor him.”