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
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
"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
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
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
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
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)