I was there that night. I was part of the crew of one of the two MH-60Gs that actually made it to Hill AFB from Savannah. Weather had forced us to shut down in Rapid City SD the night before.
The next day it was decided to send two MH-60gs ahead as weather advon. We hit bad weather approaching the mountains in Utah and relayed back that the remaining birds should stay put. We ducked and dodged our way through the mountains and weather and finally hit Hill.
After we landed I did a quick post-flight of the bird and then when about 100m behind the bird for a “leak check” and smoke. The weather had deteriorated to the point I could no longer see the mountains at all. It was obvious this storm was gonna be a rough one. I shrugged and figured, “Oh well, weather day, it’ll be a fun time at the bar later.”
We then hiked up to the hanger where I met Steve. Ssgt Steven W Kelley was the best friend I ever had and had taken me under his wing when I first arrived to the 55th.
He was also gung-ho for this mission. In the 55th we all absolutely loved working with the Rangers. We loved the camaraderie the Rangers had and the way we all just seemed to “click” when it came to the mission. I don’t know, maybe the Rangers saw it differently, but it always seemed like when it came down to the MICON we had each others back.
Anyway, Steve was decked out with a full-combat load complete with the KYK which he had tucked in his toboggan. When I first saw him I really kinda laughed. Steve liked to carry his GAU-5 with a .203 beneath and it was really kinda comical because really, we weren’t the shooters, but it showed his commitment. He was ready for a fight when supporting the Rangers and it was hard not to get on board. As I said, the camaraderie was awesome. I had no problem with the possibility of dying to support an extract or resupply of those Rangers; we all felt that.
The fact that our fuckup killed so many Rangers is crushing.
For 20 years now, …crushing.
Anyway, I grabbed Steve’s excess gear and told him I’d see him back at whatever hotel we would be staying in “because you ain’t going nowhere.. We laughed and the crew headed out to the birds.
…I’m gonna stop here. I went back to the the room. Threw Steve’s ruck on one of the beds in the room we were assigned and settled in to study for an upcoming promotion exam. Steve didn’t come back. About midnight I switched on the bedside radio for background noise and a news report relayed details of a helicopter crash. Chills washed over me as I looked at Steve’s gear and thought of his wife Val, and young children. I waited, refusing to leave the room, for Steve to come in and tell about how they helped out on the rescue of some news chopper that went down…or something…anything. Dawn came, no one came in, it became apparent Steve wasn’t coming in and things went to shit for me. For some reason I went full on denial and just stayed in the room knowing what must have happened and denying it at the same time. I went down finally and bought a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, avoiding anyone else from the squadron. Someone eventually came and got me for a “squadron meeting” and dragged me down, drunk. Reality left me, I haven’t….. fuck it.
I’m angry, after 20 years, I’m still so fucking angry. What happened that night didn’t have to happen and neither … fuck it.
Like I said, I’m gonna stop. Anything I say now is gonna hurt some people unnecessarily and it will 100% be the fucking truth. No one has ever wanted the truth. No one.
God Bless our Rangers and Airmen. Sgt. Jurena, I love ya bro, probably met you a time or two. God Bless you and take care.
I thought those comments were a great testament to how we all looked out for each other but it let me know that it was okay to be angry as well. Gallant Few would add it to their website and I would also be contacted by Col Stauss’s son who thanked me for telling the story. So, hopefully it helps to keep their memory alive!