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Pentagon identifies five Americans killed in Black Hawk crash in Egypt

By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 14, 2020

An Army doctor on his first overseas assignment and three veterans of the Afghanistan War were among the five Americans killed in a helicopter crash in Egypt, the Pentagon said Saturday.

A total of seven international peacekeepers, including a French air force officer and a Czech soldier, were killed when the UH-60 Black Hawk they were traveling in crashed near the Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh on Thursday. 

One survivor, an American service member serving with the Multinational Force and Observers mission, had been wounded and was medically evacuated.

A Pentagon statement identified the five dead Americans as the following:

  • Capt. Seth Vernon Vandekamp, 31, of Katy, Texas;
  • Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dallas Gearld Garza, 34, of Fayetteville, N.C.;
  • Chief Warrant Officer 2 Marwan Sameh Ghabour, 27, from Marlborough, Mass.;
  • Staff Sgt. Kyle Robert McKee, 35, of Painesville, Ohio; and
  • Sgt. Jeremy Cain Sherman, 23, from Watseka, Ill.

“It is with profound sadness that we mourn this tragic loss of life,” said Col. David S. Sentell, commander of Task Force Sinai. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends and loved ones of our fallen during this most difficult time. They should know that their nation will continue to honor their sacrifice.”

The U.S. Army task force of about 450 active duty, reserve and National Guard troops is the largest contingent of the Multinational Force and Observers. The peacekeeping mission is made up of about 1,150 troops from 13 countries and since 1981 has monitored compliance with the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord signed in 1979.

Its Egypt headquarters and logistical hub, South Camp, is located on a bluff near Sharm el-Sheikh, overlooking the sea. 

U.S. troops also operate remote sites and conduct patrols in the region, the MFO website says, and an Army support element provides aviation, logistics, medical and explosive ordnance disposal personnel. 

Vandekamp, an Army doctor, was assigned to the Task Force Sinai medical company. A 2017 graduate of A.T. Still University Medical School in Missouri, he joined the Army that year and arrived in Egypt last month on his first overseas assignment, U.S. Army Central said in a statement.

The four others killed were part of the aviation company, which the MFO website says consists of eight Black Hawk helicopters and a C-12 Huron plane for reconnaissance, transport, resupply, medical evacuation and other missions.

Garza, a Black Hawk pilot, enlisted in the Army in 2005 and commissioned in 2010. He arrived in Egypt in January, but had previously served on overseas tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. His awards and decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters and a Joint Meritorious Service Medal.

Ghabour, also a Black Hawk pilot, commissioned as a warrant officer two years ago and arrived in Egypt in January. It was his first overseas assignment.

A helicopter repairer who enlisted in the Army in 2003, McKee had served in South Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. Army Central said. Along with a Combat Action Badge, and several other awards and decorations, he had earned an Air Medal and Army Commendation Medal.

The youngest of the crew members, Sherman was a crew chief who enlisted in 2015 and arrived in Egypt last month. He had served in South Korea and Afghanistan previously, and his awards and decorations included an Army Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medal.

“I join all Americans in honoring their sacrifice, as I keep their loved ones in my prayers,” President-elect Joe Biden said Thursday.

The French air and space force previously identified Lt. Col. Sebastien Botta, a 21-year-veteran and deputy head of the liaison office of the MFO, as one of the other service members killed in the crash.

Czech army Sgt. Michaela Ticha was also killed in the crash, the Czech chief of the general staff said in a statement Thursday.

"We lost one of us," Czech Gen. Ales Opata said. "I'm so sorry ... Sincere condolences to the family."

U.S. Army Central had no further information to provide about the status of the wounded soldier, spokesman Capt. Paul O’Daniel said in a phone call Saturday. The U.S. service member had been reported to be in critical condition earlier in the week.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation, but MFO has said it appears to have been a mechanical failure.

“These type of tragedies are felt through our entire nation,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Friday. 

Next month, Fort Campbell, Ky., will mark the 35th anniversary of an even deadlier aviation tragedy that struck the U.S. Army contingent of the MFO in its early years.

Some 248 members of the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment returning from a deployment to the peacekeeping mission were killed along with eight crew members of the Arrow Air DC-8 jetliner they were traveling in when it crashed shortly after taking off from a refueling stop in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada on Dec. 12, 1985. It was among the deadliest incidents for the storied division.

garland.chad@stripes.com
Twitter: @chadgarland

 

Top from left: Capt. Seth Vernon Vandekamp; Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dallas Gearld Garza; Staff Sgt. Kyle Robert McKee. Bottom from left: Chief Warrant Officer 2 Marwan Sameh Ghabour; and Sgt. Jeremy Cain Sherman.