By Cid Standifer and Jon Harper
Stars and Stripes
December 17, 2013
KABUL — Six U.S. servicemembers were killed Tuesday when their helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan; one American on board survived, U.S. defense officials said.
The International Security Assistance Force did not release the names or nationalities of the casualties pending notification of their families. But in Washington, a U.S. defense official said all the victims were Americans.
The official said there was one survivor who was injured in the Black Hawk UH-60 crash. The injured survivor is an American.
Investigators have not determined the cause of the crash, but ISAF said initial reports indicated there was no enemy activity in the area.
Malik Ali Mohammad, district governor of Shahjoi district in southern Zabul province, said an aircraft crashed there at 2 p.m. Tuesday. ISAF officials would not confirm the location of the crash.
The crash brings the total number of ISAF deaths in Afghanistan to more than 150 this year, according to iCasualties.org. It marks the deadliest day for coalition forces in Afghanistan since seven Georgian soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing in Helmand province on June 6.
Afghanistan has long been known as a difficult place for pilots to navigate due to its rugged high-altitude terrain. At least 180 aircraft are reported to have crashed or been destroyed during the 12-year war, according to civil aviation safety statistics and published reports on military crashes.
Accidents caused the vast majority of the crashes, and military helicopters belonging to the NATO-led coalition accounted for most of the overall losses. Helicopters are widely used in Afghanistan as inter-theater transports due to the threat posed by roadside bombs and land mines and because the mountainous country lacks modern roads.
In April, there was a series of crashes: A civilian cargo plane crashed in eastern Afghanistan, killing seven civilians; four airmen were killed in the crash of an MC-12 twin-turboprop aircraft, also in Shahjoi district; and on April 3, an F-16 fighter-bomber crashed about 10 miles south of Bagram Air Field, killing the pilot.
In March, two helicopters crashed within a week. The pilot of an OH-58 Kiowa helicopter died when the chopper crashed in Kandahar province. A Black Hawk crashed outside Kandahar city, killing five U.S. servicemembers.
In all of those instances, the NATO-led coalition said no enemy activity was reported.
Additionally, in May a KC-135 tanker aircraft supporting operations in Afghanistan crashed in nearby Kyrgyzstan.
In February, a U.S. helicopter went down in eastern Kapisa province. Coalition officials said no one was seriously injured in that incident, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility. It, too, was under investigation.
Jon Harper reported from Washington. Josh Smith, Alex Pena and Heath Druzin contributed to this report, as did Zubair Babakarkhail and The Associated Press.
6 US Soldiers Killed in Copter Crash Identified
by Cid Standifer
Stars and Stripes
December 20, 2013
KABUL — Five of the soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday were with the 1st Infantry Division based at Fort Riley, Kan., and the sixth was with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment based in Vilseck, Germany, the Defense Department announced.
The six were killed when their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter went down in Naw Bahar district in Zabul province. Officials haven’t announced the cause of the crash, but say they don’t believe it was caused by enemy fire. There was one survivor, who hasn’t been named.
A DOD news release identified those killed as: Chief Warrant Officer 2 Randy L. Billings, 34, of Heavener, Okla.; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua B. Silverman, 35, of Scottsdale, Ariz.; Sgt. Peter C. Bohler, 29, of Willow Spring, N.C.; Sgt. 1st Class Omar W. Forde, 28, of Marietta, Ga.; Staff Sgt. Jesse L. Williams, 30, of Elkhart, Ind.; and Spc. Terry K. D. Gordon, 22, of Shubuta, Miss.
Billings, Silverman and Bohler all were assigned to the 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. Forde was assigned to the brigade’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, and Gordon was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment.
The Wichita Eagle quoted Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, commander of 1st ID and Fort Riley, saying, “We offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of these Big Red One soldiers … We stand ready to support them, and I urge our community and nation, while remembering their sacrifices this holiday season, to do the same.”
The crash, which is still under investigation, made Dec. 17 the deadliest day for NATO troops in six months, since a suicide attack on a base killed seven Georgian soldiers.
Williams was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, Regimental Support Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, based in Vilseck, Germany. He had just been promoted to staff sergeant Dec. 1, according to U.S. Army Europe. He was on his third deployment and had joined the military to work on computers, his mother, Debbie Bussard Passerallo, told The Elkhart Truth.
“He didn’t let things get him down,” Passerallo told the paper. “When he was a friend, he was a friend forever.”
What he loved most was spending time with his 6-year-old daughter, Madison, her mother, Amanda Caldwell, told the paper. But he also loved the military, she said, according to the Truth. “He didn’t want to do anything else.”
Billings had been in the military for 16 years, having joined right after high school, according to local media. An only son, Billings loved serving, KJRH-TV in Tulsa quoted his uncle, Hurschel Billings, as saying. “Every time he came back, he couldn’t wait to go back,” the uncle was quoted as saying.
Silverman spent much of his youth in St. Louis, according to the St. Louis Jewish Light. His boyhood friend, Matthew Litwack, told the Light that Silverman “did his own thing and people gravitated around him.” He was well-liked, and caring, Litwack said.
Silverman’s Facebook posts while deployed to Afghanistan always contained humor, the Light quoted Litwack as saying.
“That was Josh,” Litwack told the Light. “He always could see the positive in the negative.”
Bohler was the eldest of three siblings and came from a family with a history of military service, the News & Observer reported. The paper said Bohler’s father, Peter, was also in the Army; his great-grandfather served in Europe in World War I; his grandfather was in the Army during World War II; and a great-uncle was in the Air Force during the Korean War.
At 22, Gordon was the youngest of those killed. He was a member of the Junior ROTC throughout high school, according to the Meridian Star, which quoted Quitman High School Principal Michael McDonald. “Terry always wanted to go into the Army,” McDonald told the Meridian Star.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recalled that Forde was a varsity football player in high school before joining the Army eight years ago. He left behind a wife and two sons, ages 5 and 17 months, the paper reported.
His high school coach, Scott Jones, told the AJC that Forde was his pride and joy in 28 years of coaching and teaching.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that he was serving his country because he was selfless and very committed to what he did,” Jones told the AJC.
Stars and Stripes reporter Michael Darnell contributed to this report.