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Guard breaks ground for memorial

Steve Ranson
Nevada Appeal News Service

RENO -The last week of September 2005 has not faded for many Nevada and Oregon guardsmen who served in Afghanistan with D Company, 113th Aviation.

Sunday was another busy day for the aviators, flying combat soldiers in southern Afghanistan – along with a helicopter assault team of three Chinooks, two Apaches and two Blackhawks – to fight Taliban insurgents near Deh Chopan when bad news began to trickle in to the unit.

Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Soule, who was born in Fallon, remembers something had happened that morning, causing concern among the guardsmen.

“We knew an aircraft had been shot down, but we didn’t know who or what,” Soule said Saturday after the Nevada Army National Guard conducted a groundbreaking ceremony at its Army Aviation Support Facility north of Reno to erect a permanent memorial dedicated to the five-man crew that perished aboard “Mustang 22.”

Aboard the Chinook were two Nevada guardsmen, Chief Warrant Officer John M. Flynn, 36, of Reno and his flight engineer, Staff Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart of Fernley, and three soldiers from the Oregon Army National Guard. Soule had known Flynn for 18 years and frequently worked out together at the gym. He also knew Stewart quite well.

“The big thing with the National Guard is we are a family. We have those long-term relationships,” he said.

The waiting to hear of the soldiers’ fate caused much anxiety at company headquarters.

“Initially, not knowing, we gathered the leaders and then gathered at the Task Force TOC (Tactical Operations Center) to see what was going on,” Soule said.

Once the Army confirmed the helicopter crashed, killing the five aviators, Soule said the mood then turned to one of disbelief. Many, including him, tried to minimize the situation, holding out hope that all five had survived. The guardsmen then heard there were no survivors.

A month later, a military investigation team determined a rocket propelled grenade shot down the Chinook.

Maj. Roger Capps, former unit commander when the company deployed to Afghanistan in January 2005, said the memory of the incident still is difficult to look back on, but he said the closeness of the unit and the families makes it easier to accept.

“It’s very fitting to have the memorial made for both Guard members, but also for the families to bring their children to,” Capps said, adding that the quality of the people made the unit close-knit.

“When it (the incident) happened, we still had a job to do – day in and day out without complaint.”

Lt. Col. Kim LaBrie, the state Army aviation officer, said the National Guard

is a strong part of the

community.

“It makes these losses more acutely felt,” he said.

The idea for the memorial first originated several years ago, but Chief Warrant Officer 5 Sean Laycox said it was hard for the guardsmen to revisit the incident. With the groundbreaking now taking place, Laycox said the Guard intends to finish the memorial and have it ready for dedication on Sept. 25, the five-year anniversary. Laycox said construction firms are donating their labor and cement to build the memorial, and people form the Northern Nevada have been contributing money.