Fallen Airmen memorialized at Hurlburt
by Capt. Tom Montgomery
Air Force Special Operations Command

5/31/2007 -  HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFPN)  -- Members of the 720th Special Tactics Group dedicated a state-of-the-art training center and an adjacent roadway here May 30 in honor of four air commandos killed in the line of duty in recent operations.

An Iraqi Air Force SL7 light aircraft crashed May 30, 2005, about 80 miles northeast of Baghdad, Iraq, killing Staff Sgt. Casey Crate, Capt. Derek Argel and Capt. Jeremy Fresques.

Maj. Brian Downs from another Hurlburt Field unit, the 6th Special Operations Squadron, and an Iraqi pilot were also killed in that crash.

Exactly two years after the crash, a team of special tactics operators fast-roped from an MH-53 helicopter with a U.S. flag to hoist above a new training facility that will enshrine the names of their fallen comrades forever.

Special tactics Airmen fast rope from an MH-53 Pave Low to deliver the colors at the dedication of the Crate Special Tactics Advanced Skills Training Center May 30 at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The center was dedicated in honor of Staff Sgt. Casey Crate, a combat controller from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron who perished during an operational mission in Iraq in 2005. (U.S. Air Force photo/Chief Master Sgt. Gary Emery)

The $7.8 million, 50,000 square foot Crate Advanced Skills Training Center was formally dedicated to Sergeant Crate. The center's auditorium was dedicated to Captain Fresques and the aquatics facility to Captain Argel.

The street adjacent to the facility was named Servais Way, in honor of Senior Airman Adam Servais who was killed Aug. 19, 2006, while engaged with enemy fighters in southern Afghanistan.

"It means a lot to us that the street is forever named after Adam," said his mother, Sue Servais of Onalaska, Wis. "When you go through this grief and loss, sometimes you want the world to stop just for you, but everybody's lives go on. This is a way to keep his memory alive."

The keynote speaker for the dedication ceremony was Dr. James G. Roche, the 20th secretary of the Air Force who served from 2001 to 2005.

"Today is a bittersweet day," he said, addressing a crowd that included several close relatives and surviving spouses of the honored fallen. "We can laugh but we can also have some fond memories, and we can reminisce."

Dr. Roche spoke about the imperative this country is faced with to defend the idea of democracy from those who would seek to destroy it.

"The Advanced Skills Training Center is an investment this country has made and I have no qualm in pointing out it is an investment in democracy, because the first of those who wish to harm us will feel the brunt of those who are trained here," he said.

Sergeant Crate, Airman Servais and Captains Argel and Fresques were among the first graduates of the relatively new concept of training called Advanced Skills Training.
The AST concept was born of necessity when the special tactics career fields were experiencing severe manning shortages and training deficiencies in 1999, said Col. Marc Stratton, the 720th STG commander
"That year our pipeline graduated seven combat controllers. Manning at operational units was at 40 percent. The influx of new personnel was not keeping pace with those retiring or separating. Those entering the pipeline had an eight percent success rate," Colonel Stratton said. "In short, the career fields were in a death spiral."

Leadership in the special tactics community took immediate action to address the manpower shortage and brought their suggested changes to Air Force officials. Senior Air Force leaders, especially Dr. Roche, agreed and made special tactics a high priority.
The new year-long finishing school initially faced obstinate organizational resistance, Colonel Stratton said. Critics were silenced when AST graduates were thrust immediately into combat following the Sept. 11 attacks and battlefield commanders praised their performance.

The results were also felt in other ways. Manning at operational units began to climb and lessons learned from combat were immediately incorporated into training plans without being scrutinized in months of meetings and staff coordination, Colonel Stratton said.

The Crate Advanced Skills Training Center is expected to continue to improve the process of filling the ranks of special tactics squadrons with superbly trained Battlefield Airmen.

Cadre and mentors expect to broaden the minds of young special tactics operators in the Fresques Auditorium and push the limits of their physical endurance as they run on Servais Way and train in the Argel Aquatics Center.

Debra Bastain, the mother of Capt. Derek Argel, a fallen Air Force special tactics officer, takes an impromptu dive into the pool at the aquatics training facility dedicated in Captain Argel's memory May 30 at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Captain Argel, who died in the crash of an Iraqi air force aircraft on Memorial Day 2005, was captain of the water polo team while a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Chief Master Sgt. Gary Emery)