Air Force Heroes

Capt Francis D. Imlay

Capt. Francis D. Imlay, 31, of Vacaville, Calif., died March 28 from injuries received in an accident involving

an F-15 aircraft near a base in Southwest Asia. He was assigned to the 391st Fighter Squadron, Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.

Captain Imlay was known among his fellow airmen as ‘Piston’ and ‘Dee’ by his loved ones at home. He was part of the 391st Fighter

Squadron known as the ‘Bold Tigers.’

Burial is at Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon, California – Section 13 Site 1320

Staff Sgt Brian Lee Smith II

Born: April 19, 1981

Died: March 8, 2012 in Camden, Tennessee

Staff Sgt. Brian L. Smith II formerly of Hendersonville, Tn., currently of Bossier City, Louisiana, graduated from Family Christian

Academy. Before joining the U.S. Air Force in 1999, he joined the Civil Air Patrol. Brian was stationed at Shaw AFB and Barksdale, LA.

He proudly served our country in Korea, Kuwait, Guam and Iraq. Brian is preceded in death by his grandfather, Robert Ivan Smith;

grandmother, Lorraine Smith; grandfather, John L. Myers. Survived by wife, Jessica Smith of Bossier City, LA.; step-son,Liam Fox; stepdaughter,

Ava Sermon; father and mother, Brian Lee Smith ,Sr. and Kinney Myers Smith of Gallatin, TN.; brothers, Nicholas James

Smith of Hendersonville, TN. and Nathan James (Nikki) Smith of White House, TN.; father in-law and mother in-law, Robert and Loretta

Sermon of Benton, LA. Brian passed away March 8, 2012 in Camden, Tennessee, the victim of a traffic accident.

Lt. Col. John D. Loftis

Lt. Col. John D. Loftis, 44, of Murray, Ky., died Feb. 25 from wounds received during an attack at

the Interior Ministry, Kabul, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 866th Air Expeditionary Squadron, Kabul, Afghanistan. He served as a

space and missile officer who became a regional affairs strategist in 2008. Known to some as JD or Darin, he entered the Air Force in

1996, receiving his commission through Officer Training School. Prior to deploying in March 2011, he had been assigned to the U.S. Air

Force Special Operations School, Air Force Special Operations Training Center, Hurlburt Field, Fla. Loftis was deployed in support of

OPERATION Enduring Freedom and working in the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of the Interior with the

AfPak Hands program as the chief plans advisor. The AfPak Hands program stood up in September 2009 to develop a cadre of specially

trained U.S. servicemembers skilled in Afghan and Pakistani culture and language. Lt Col Loftis was previously awarded the Bronze Star,

Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medal.

Capt Ryan Preston Hall

Born: December 10, 1981 in Colorado Springs, Colorado

Died: February 18, 2012 in Djibouti, Africa

Captain Ryan P. Hall of Colorado Springs, Colo. He was assigned to the 319th Special Operations Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla. He died

at age 30 when his U-28 aircraft was involved in an accident near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Africa. He entered the Air Force in 2004,

receiving his commission through the Reserve Officer Training Corp at The Citadel. Captain Hall was a U-28A pilot serving his seventh

deployment. He had been assigned to the 319th SOS at Hurlburt Field since 2007 and had more than 1,300 combat flight hours.

Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock

Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock, 29, of Newnan, Ga. He was assigned to the 34th Special Operations

Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla. He died February 18 when his U-28 aircraft was involved in an accident near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti,

Africa. He entered the Air Force in 2006, receiving his commission through the Officer Training School. Capt Whitlock was serving his

fifth deployment. He had been assigned to the 319th SOS and then to the 34th SOS at Hurlburt Field since 2008 and had more than 800

combat flight hours. Also killed were: Capt. Ryan P. Hall, 30, of Colorado Springs, Colo., 1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkens, 26, of Bend, Ore.,

and Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, 26, of Upper Marlboro, Md.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Capt. Whitlock’s memory to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation,

which gives financial help to severely wounded special-ops personnel and provides scholarships and counseling to children of fallen

special-ops members. The foundation’s address is P.O. Box 13483, Tampa, FL 33681-3483.

Forest Lawn Memorial Park

Jamie Tate’s, “I’ll Give My All”

Last month I was honored to be able to attend the funeral of Sgt Devin C. Poche’. It was an opportunity to be among his family and friends to learn something about this young man whom I had never met. In fact, I had only learned his name just a week earlier.

A mere mention in my local newspaper was all there was about his untimely death half a world away in what so many in his position called the ‘sandbox.’

Having had someone so close to me geographically to be killed in Iraq motivated me to want to learn more about this young man.

I began eagerly scanning two local papers and watching the evening news for my area, but nothing more was mentioned. The papers still spoke of local crime, local events and the weather, but nothing of Devin. Life went on as usual for most.

But somewhere out there, close to me, in the same county as I live, there was a family whose life was not going on as usual. They had lost a son, a brother, a grandson and a friend. I wondered why my own community had not stepped up to tell this man’s story. Surely folks wanted to know about him. I know I did.

I knew it took about 10 days to prepare a funeral for military personal killed overseas, so I decided to just look for an obituary in hopes of learning more about Devin. A few days later, there it was finally, a notice in the local paper. However, it told little more than I already knew at this point. Just the fact that he died in Iraq, and the funeral home who would be handling the arrangements.

A quick call to the funeral home was made to inquire if the family would mind if a total stranger invited herself to the service. I was told that they would likely be pleased if I attended. It would be held the following day at 1:00, which was Good Friday.

So there it was…that’s how I came to find myself at the service of Sgt Devin C. Poche’ along with about 200 other mourners. People whose lives Devin had come in contact with.

I went there alone and walked into the church sitting at the second to the last row on the left hand side. The right side appeared to be reserved for family.

It was an impressive group of people considering that this young man received hardly any press coverage. The Fort Bragg Honor Guard was there and several people got up and spoke. The choir sang as well as a soloist. I quickly learned that Devin’s grandfather, was the Pastor that was giving the eulogy. This was the same grandfather that Devin and his sister came to live with at about age 10 when his family left California to move back near maternal family ties on the southeast coast. The Reverend offered up a few humorous stories of Devin as he grew to be a responsible man with dreams of joining the military. The congregation heard how Devin was a smart, even brilliant, student who was placed in the Academically gifted program at a young age. He was a member of the National Honor society and received numerous awards through his formative years. And because of his love of children, he served as mentor at the boys and girls club while enrolled at Coastal Carolina Community College. He also loved music, all kinds. Gospel, jazz, neo Soul, rhythm and blues and hip hop.

Finally, my curiosity was slowly being sated as I sat with moist eyes. I began to realize what road led this Sergeant to the end of his short life, and what brought me, a total stranger to be sitting among neighbors I had never met.

Devin joined the military on Valentines Day in 2005 and was stationed in Hawaii. He quickly rose to the rank of Sgt while pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree. Yes, he was planning for the future and no doubt, thankful for the past that had brought him so far already.

I had sat near an elderly woman and about half way through the service she offered me a piece of candy, which I gladly accepted. At the end of the service, she thanked me for coming and ask if I lived nearby, and then she told me where she lived and ask me to come see her if I have any questions or trouble. Not sure who she thought I was, but the gesture was very heartwarming.

The 1 hour and 20 minute service at the church ended and we all drove about 1 mile to the cemetery for military honors presented by the Honor Guard who also served as Pallbearers. We were all given a keepsake pamphlet about Devin and invited back after the graveside ceremony for time with the family and a meal. However, I left after the graveside and came on home. I just didn’t think I would know what to say to his grieving mother. The drive home was solemn and satisfying at the same time. No radio playing to distract me, no traffic on these back roads to hinder me. Just a quiet drive of reflection on a life I never knew until that day.

Every Day is Memorial Day

I work in the oil industry, a trade that knows no pause and affords little sleep.

Rugged men wake up each morning and enter into a taxing daily grind on oilrigs, in pipe yards, and at secluded corporate outposts on large mesquite-ridden plots of land. With all the tiresome hours these individuals end up putting in, they cherish their off time as much as their large paychecks.

With Memorial Day approaching, the buzz around our company seems to be purely focused on our elongated weekend plans. The majority of them seem dead set on joining the rest of the country in Memorial Day traditions: bringing the family to the lake, a barbeque with friends, or an extra evening of debauchery at the local watering hole. But America needs to keep moving, so I’ve found myself as one of the few employees coming in to work over the weekend.

Recently—while hauling some equipment to a pump jack—one of my coworkers said, “Man, I can’t believe they’re making you of all people work on Memorial Day.”

I found myself perplexed by his statement. “What do you mean me of all people?”
“Weren’t you in the Army?”

“Marines.”

“You shouldn’t have to work if you were in the military.”

“It’s just another day to me.”

The conversation ended there. I don’t know if he was taken aback by response or if he understood what I meant by it, but he definitely knew I was perfectly fine with showing up to work Memorial Day weekend.

Why don’t I care if I work Memorial Day? It’s a very easy question with a complicated answer. I’ll make my response as easy as possible.

The reason why I don’t put a lot of thought into Memorial Day is because every day is Memorial Day to me. Every single day. I don’t need a day off of work to think of the men I knew who lost their lives in Iraq. I think about them from the time I stumble into the bathroom in the morning until the time I stumble into bed after a hard day’s work.

I think of them during those lulls in work. I think about all the men and women who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan when I’m driving home and hear about another casualty on the radio.

I think about those of every generation who lost their lives in conflict when I open up the paper and see that little American flag next to a name in the obituaries. I think about my grandfather, who lost his life in the Pacific during WWII, when my father sends me his have a great day text every morning—he never knew his father like I know mine.

I knew some of these people well while others were mere acquaintances. The majority of them are strangers. But they’re all extraordinary individuals. Not just names on a wall or a grave marker. Every single one of them has a story. Every single one of them lived their own unique life. And every single one of them had their own unique death. Most of all, every single one of them left behind people who loved them dearly.

A few months ago, I was standing outside of a Mexican food restaurant in West Texas with two special couples. Both of the men—a cop and a cowboy—were guys I knew from the Marine Corps.

The five of us were waiting for the arrival of another couple, two retirees who saved up all their hard earned cash to live on the road in their brand new trailer—accompanied by a loyal Australian Sheppard who rode in the middle seat.

The two couples I was with had already spent some time with the retirees in the past, but this was a much anticipated reunion. When their large truck pulled into the parking lot, long hugs ensued between these six individuals.

The husband was a tall man with a long ponytail and mountain man-like beard. The wife looked as if she could have been any western mother out of a Rockwell painting. For me, it was my first time meeting them. I was immediately struck by their natural friendliness and enormous smiles when they came to shake my hand.

During our meal, we gladly listened to their stories about their travels around the United States and how big their little granddaughter was getting. This was a large table of laughter and contentment. Then the inevitable happened. The subject that every single person there was connected to came up.

“It’s still hard,” the woman retiree said as she choked back some tears. “He’s always on my mind.”

Silence.

What bonded this table together was the loss of another, the son of the retirees. The cowboy, the cop and I had all served with him at one point, the cowboy being the last one to see him alive as he exited this earth from a murky street in Fallujah, Iraq. With that loss eight years ago, a new friendship was born.

What started out as a one week visit turned into a three week gathering that saw much laughter… and tears. Other former comrades of the fallen Marine came from all over Texas to meet the parents of the friend they once new.

Just like my first encounter with them, the initial demeanor of these men would be a little awkward, and every time, the retirees would break the ice with their charming openness. Awkwardness quickly turned into a level of familiarity that only good friends shared.

The majority of that time saw new relationships being forged and a joyous outlook of the future. But there was a night when the inevitable came back in a larger force than the first night at the Mexican restaurant.

At two in the morning at a secluded ranch house in West Texas, the cowboy sat on a bench with his head down, facing the mother of his fallen friend as he struggled to mutter two words. It’s as if eight years of resistance was being forced from his lips.
“I’m sorry.”

Tears.

Tears from every single person witnessing it. As the cowboy—a man hardened from war—sat in obvious pain, it was the woman who lost her oldest son that went to him and calmed his vulnerability.

I went to Iraq three times; however, I’ve never witnessed strength like that before.

Those retirees are the most courageous people I’ve ever met in my life. They go through life accompanied with a tremendous sting and they epitomize the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Later on in the night, as all of us were letting out those pent up feelings of hurt, the cop openly said, “I can’t go every single day dying for my brothers, because I owe it to them to live for them… for what they did for me.

On this Memorial Day, I’ll simply be going to work on a Monday and making my wages for the day. It’s the most normal thing I can think of. I’ll think about the ones we lost on that day. And the next.

Freedom Remembered is devoted to those troops who have given the ultimate sacrifice

Operation Iraqi Freedom

The Iraq War, also known as the Second Persian Gulf War, the Occupation of Iraq, or Operation Iraqi Freedom, is an ongoing military campaign which began on March 19, 2003, with the invasion of Iraq by a multinational force now led by and composed almost entirely of troops from the United States and the United Kingdom.

Operation Enduring Freedom

Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) is the official name used by the U.S. Government for its War in Afghanistan, together with three smaller military actions, under the umbrella of its Global War on Terror (GWOT).

On Oct. 7, 2001, U.S. and British forces launched Operation Enduring Freedom.

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Operation New Dawn

Effective Sept. 1, 2010 the war in Iraq acquired a new official name; Operation New Dawn (OND).

The transition to Operation New Dawn marks the official end to Operation Iraqi Freedom and combat operations by United States forces in Iraq.

During Operation New Dawn, the remaining 50,000 U.S. servicemembers serving in Iraq will conduct stability operations, focusing on advising, assisting, and training Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). After 8 1/2 years, the war in Iraq officially ended on December 15, 2011.