It’s already Monday here in Kyrgyzstan, and on this day I am thinking about four Air Force Non-Commissioned Officers who are no longer with us.
If you’ve read the Charity tab on my blog, you know that I try to raise money for a wonderful charity called the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. SOWF provides college tuition (and books, fees, room and board, a computer, printer and tutoring) to the sons and daughters of special operations personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The Foundation has been around since 1980 (since Desert One), and to date has graduated 249 kids and are currently funding 134 students.
I’ve had a few friends and acquaintances die on active duty, and I’m actually lucky in only losing four colleagues. Many of our Army and Marine Corps comrades have numerable ghosts accompanying them through their days.
First today I’m thinking of TSgt Ernie Parrish. Ernie was an Area Specialist on the E-3/Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft. He and I worked together in Alaska on Elmendorf AFB. I had gotten out of the Air Force active duty in 1994, and my departure opened up a space for Ernie in our small office of about six area specialists. A little over a year later, I drove into the base to update my reservist ID card, as I had just made SSgt. Upon leaving the base, I saw a line of news vans waiting at the gate. I had no idea why, until I got home, and my wife looked at me, and said, “They’re all dead. It was probably very quick.” Then she told me what she was talking about. Yukla-27, the callsign of that day’s AWACS flight, had hit a huge flock of geese and gone down.
TSgt Ernest Parrish
I of course wanted to start immediately calling my friends from the office. My wise wife advised against it. What if a wife answers the phone and doesn’t know about the crash? I spent hours that day waiting to hear who of my friends had just died. I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point I learned it was Ernie. RIP, brother.
Next I am thinking today about a group of three Direct Support Operators, or DSOs (pronounced Dizzos). DSOs get to fly on Air Force Special Operations aircraft, like Spectre (or Spooky) gunships, Combat Shadows and Talons, Pave Lows and Pave Hawks (back in the day), and, I presume, the Ospreys. That job was probably my favorite job while I was enlisted. And three other DSOs probably would have said the same: MSgt Navid “G” Garshasb, TSgt Rocco Lastes, and SSgt Shane Kimmett. I never got to meet Rocco, and I only met Shane for about five minutes on my way out of the unit (RIP, Rocco and Shane). But “G” I got to serve with for a bit.
TSgt Glenn “Rocco” Lastes
SSgt Shane Kimmett
Navid was from Iran. He came to the unit already as a TSgt, a cross-trainee from maintenance, I think. He was fluent in Persian-Farsi of course, but also happened to teach himself a few other languages, including two or three native to Afghanistan. I loved listening to his accent, and his sense of duty was infectious. I remember one instance when G was talking with our Squadron Superintendent, a Chief Master Sergeant whose face I can see, but whose name I cannot remember.
G: Chief, you tell me what you want me to do and I do it.
Simple. G lived the Air Force Core Values before they were systematized.
In the days after 9/11, G was one of the first in to Afghanistan, flying linguistic support on AFSOC helicopter. On one mission in November 2001, on a search and rescue mission for an Army Special Forces soldier, G’s helicopter crashes, breaking his back and hips. The helicopter crash attracts local villagers, who start approaching the downed aircraft.
Navid “G” Garshasb
The helicopter crew start to get worried. They were unsure if the villagers were armed, and they didn’t want to take a chance by letting those villagers get too close. G told the aircraft commander that he’ll go out and talk to the villagers, warn them away from the crash site, so that the helicopter coming to rescue them won’t see the villagers and react with force. The AC tells G “No, your back is broken. You need to remain here until rescue comes.” G doesn’t give up. He insists, and finally the AC allows him to go talk to them. With help from his crew, G walks up to the villagers and tells them to leave the area. For their own safety, he says, they must leave the area. The villagers took a bit of convincing, but finally relented and left. G and his crew were rescued and the helicopter destroyed to keep it out of enemy hands. (This was another reason G wanted to persuade the villagers, men and children, to leave the area.) This single act of G’s resulted in the Air Force Sergeant’s Association to award him the Pitsenbarger Award [link pdf], an award usually earned by the bad-asses of the Air Force, pararescuemen.
In the days after 9/11, I was teaching new Air Force officers at Goodfellow AFB. We had the TV on in the office all day. Once I heard of an AFSOC helicopter crash in Afghanistan, I kept my eyes on that television. The news starting showing a video put out by the Taliban about a helicopter they say they shot down. The video showed the helicopter’s remains strewn all over a mountain side, and there in the shot is an issued-helmet, with GARSHASB written on a strip of masking tape.
G was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2003, and given a few months to live. But this tough old sonuvabitch told the doctors to STFU and lived over a decade beyond their “expert” opinions. G passed away September 4, 2013, leaving his wife Joani and two sons, Shahine and Andrew.
ممکن است او در آرامش استراحت