Memorial services held for military personnel killed in Puerto

Saturday, August 17, 2002

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Some 1,700 mourners gathered Friday to remember military personnel killed last week when an Air Force plane crashed on a training mission in Puerto Rico.

Ten white doves were released into the bright sky from a hangar at the base where seven of the 10 dead were stationed. A memorial service also was held in Louisville, Ky., for two victims who were Kentucky Air National Guard members.

All were honored as heroes although their MC-130H Combat Talon II, a special operations transport plane, crashed during a training mission rather than combat.

"Our phenomenal success in combat over the last year is a direct result of preparedness for war, and we prepare for war by training," said Lt. Col. Frank Fields, commander of the 15th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt.

Another plane from Hurlburt crashed in Afghanistan in June, killing three. Both crashes remain under investigation.

"It is incredible to be speaking to you today about more loss of life after such a short period," Fields told the crowd of servicemen and victims' family members. "The pain is as much as we can bear."

Hurlburt personnel killed in Puerto Rico Aug. 7 were the pilot, Maj. Michael J. Akos, 33, of Parma, Ohio; Capt. Christel A. Chavez, 27, of Albuquerque, N.M.; Maj. Gregory W. Fritz, 34, of Plano, Texas; 1st Lt. Nathaniel D. Buckley, 25, of Minneola, Kan.; Tech. Sgt. Robert S. Johnson, 39, of Jacksonville; Staff Sgt. Robert J. McGuire Jr., 28, of Watertown, Tenn.; and Staff Sgt. Shane H. Kimmett, 28, of Denver.

The Kentucky guardsmen who died were Staff Sgt. Martin A. Tracy, 33, of Louisville, and Tech. Sgt. Christopher A. Matero, 31, of Greenville, Ind.

Also killed was Capt. Panuk P. Soomsawasdi, 36, of Windsor, N.C., who was stationed in Puerto Rico.

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