Advertisement
  1. Military

How elite Marines will 'bring home' their fallen friends from a horrific helicopter crash

Military personnel wade in the water and search on the beach under heavy fog at Eglin Air Force Base on March 11, 2015, for the wreckage of a military helicopter that crashed with 11 service members aboard. [Associated Press]
Published Feb. 16, 2016

A year ago in March, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter descended into soupy fog off the coast of the Florida Panhandle and never returned. The helicopter crashed into water southwest of Eglin Air Force Base, killing all seven elite Special Operations Marines and all four Louisiana National Guardsmen aboard.

The incident sent shock waves through the Louisiana National Guard and Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), the elite force the service established about a decade ago to carry out dangerous missions in remote locations. Now, a year later, fellow members of MARSOC are preparing a grueling send-off: With 45 pounds in rucksacks on their backs, they will march next month some 770 miles from the shore in Navarre, near the crash site to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, home to MARSOC's headquarters.

"I've literally been planning this since March 11, which is the day after it went down," said Nathan Harris, a staff sergeant in MARSOC who was friends with a few of the Marines killed. "As soon as I saw the news reports and heard the rumors that it might be our guys, I started thinking about ways that we could honor their memory."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Military helicopter with 11 aboard crashes off Panhandle

The effort is known as the Marine Raider Memorial March. At least 14 Special Operations Marines and veterans will be involved as they raise money for the Brothers in Arms Foundation while on leave from the military. The organization has assisted the families of the fallen Marines since last year, Harris said.

Killed in the crash were Marine Capt. Stanford H. Shaw III; Master Sgt. Thomas A. Saunders; Staff Sgt. Kerry M. Kemp; Staff Sgt. Andrew C. Seif; Staff Sgt. Liam A. Flynn; Staff Sgt. Marcus Bawol; and Staff Sgt. Trevor P. Blaylock. They were in Florida for amphibious training, and all part of the same tight-knit team. Shaw, a Naval Academy graduate, served as their commander. Saunders was their team chief.

Also killed were Chief Warrant Officer 4 George Wayne Griffin Jr., and Chief Warrant Officer 4 George David Strother, who piloted the aircraft, and the other members of their helicopter crew: Staff Sgt. Lance Bergeron and Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich.

Each member of the march will carry a commemorative plate in the pack with the names of all 11 fallen service members etched on it. The marchers will be split into seven teams and move in rotating 10-mile legs 24 hours per day for 11 days beginning March 11. Each team will represent one of the Marines killed, and take turns carrying a paddle that washed ashore from the helicopter wreckage. It has been decorated with the dog tags of the 11 fallen service members, and will be presented to MARSOC leaders at Camp Lejeune.

The route will begin at Navarre Beach, and work its way toward Panama City before cutting northeast into southern Georgia and South Carolina. It will cross through Savannah, Georgia, and pass by the front gate to Parris Island, the iconic Marine Corps recruit training center in South Carolina.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. A homeless Vietnam War veteran in Clearwater answers questions for a Pinellas County homeless survey. A shortage of affordable housing is considered a major cause of homelessness among vets in the Tampa Bay area. [Times files]
    Local agency leaders called on members of Congress to increase national affordable housing options as a solution to veteran homelessness
  2. A Coast Guard rescue swimmer drops from a helicopter during a training exercise off Honeymoon Island State Park in 2012. Jim Damaske
    The bizarre threat and fakes calls for help are being transmitted over marine radio. It sounds like the same man, the Coast Guard said.
  3. MacDill Air Force Base will observe a full-day, "resilience tactical pause'' Friday to address a growing number of suicides in the Air Force. Airmen will participate in team-building activities and small-group discussions on mental health. This is happening at military bases across the U.S.  [Times files].
    An estimated 78 airmen nationwide have taken their lives this year, prompting leaders to boost prevention efforts
  4. Dr. Dominick Gulli and Tammy Alsing recently launched Cope Well Counseling Associates at 415 Lithia Pinecrest Rd. in Brandon. ERIC VICIAN   | Special to the Times
    Dr. Dominick Gulli and Tammy Alsing recently opened their office at 415 Lithia Pinecrest Rd.
  5. Researchers from Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa participated in a newly released study that links post-traumatic stress disorder to ovarian cancer risk.
    A researcher from Moffitt Cancer Center participated in the study, which found that those with six or more symptoms of PTSD had double the risk of getting the disease.
  6. Capt. Joseph McGilley, commanding officer of Air Station Clearwater, center, gives an update on Wednesday about the air station's work in the hurricane-ravaged Bahamas. He stands inside a hangar on the Air Station Clearwater property in front of a Sikorsky MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, the same type being used in search and rescue efforts in the Bahamas. [JOSH SOLOMON   |   Times] JOSH SOLOMON  |  Josh Solomon, Tampa Bay Times
    Cargo planes, helicopters and people are all part of the effort.
  7. KC-135 Stratotankers will be evacuated from MacDill Air Force Case to McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas ahead of Hurricane Dorian.  [Times]
    The aircraft are being sent to McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas as a precaution with high winds projected during the storm
  8. A bulldozer dumps a load of trash into a burn pit 300 yards from the runway at Afghanistan's Bagram Airfield in this 2012 photo. The Pentagon later built a trash disposal plant at the busy military base but a number of crude burn pits, still spewing toxic fumes, remain in operation. [Mark Rankin] HOWARD ALTMAN  |  Mark Rankin
    A number of veterans have been locked out of VA medical care and disability benefits for illnesses that often are terminal.
  9. Medal of Honor recipient Ryan Pitts, right, speaks while Clinic Director Karen Blanchette, left, Michael Sullivan, a Cohen Veterans Network Board Member, center, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, look on during a ceremony Monday marking the opening of the Florida Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Aspire Health Partners in Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times] "OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES"  |  Times
    The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Aspire Health Partners will fill mental health service gaps for veterans and their family members.
  10. The Veterans Resurgence Program inside the Falkenburg Road Jail houses up to 60 veterans who can receive resources and counseling while serving time. Courtesy of Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
    Sheriff Chad Chronister’s Veterans Resurgence Program offers resources, counseling to incarcerated vets
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement