NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — â€œThereâ€™s never a day I donâ€™t remember the guys, the crash. Never a day I donâ€™t hurt. I wake up thinking about it. I go to bed thinking about it. Thereâ€™s nothing you can do except put your head down and keep pushing… But I want people to know about the incredible strength they all had when everything was going bad, when they knew that their chances of survival were little to none. How they did everything possible to keep that bird in the air. They were true professionals. All the way up to impact… everybody maintained their character until the end.â€
-Master Sgt. Christopher Aguilera, a survivor of the â€œPedro 66â€ crash.
Five Airmen were killed due to the June 9, 2010, HH-60G Pave Hawk â€œPedro 66â€ crash caused by hostile enemy fire striking the helicopter while on its way to rescue wounded British soldiers in southeastern Afghanistan. These Airmen were: Capt. Joel Gentz, Capt. David Wisniewski, Tech. Sgt. Michael Flores, Staff Sgt. David Smith and Senior Airman Benjamin White. They are survived by Capt. Anthony Simone, the â€œPedro 66â€ co-pilot, Master Sgt. Aguilera, the â€œPedro 66â€ gunner, and countless family members and friends who consider these men to be exemplars of the pararescue motto: that others may live.
â€œWhen the bullets were flying and patients bleeding out, he was always calm, cool and collected… he was the guy you wanted there.â€
Robert Martinez, 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron project manager, remembers Tech. Sgt. Michael Flores as an easy-going, but incredibly reliable and talented pararescueman and a loving husband and father.
â€œI set Flores and Marissa up on their first date,â€ said Martinez. â€œMarissa later became Floresâ€™ wife and they had two children together. Flores was a family man.â€
Senior Airman Benjamin White of Erwin, Tenn., was also a pararescueman and was on his first deployment when the crash occurred.
â€œHe said he finally felt a sense of purpose — that he was doing what he was supposed to do,â€ said his sister-in-law, Ashlee White.
Both Martinez and White were assigned to the 48th Rescue Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., when they lost their lives. They were augmenting a deployment that primarily consisted of Nellis AFB rescue personnel.
Master Sgt. Aguilera remembers Staff Sgt. David Smith, a flight engineer from the 66th Rescue Squadron, as a great friend and a comic book enthusiast.
â€œHe was writing his own comic book and developing his own characters,â€ said Aguilera, 66th RQS flight chief and first sergeant. â€œSmith was very unique and was coming up with things no was else was thinking about.
â€œAnd he loved his fiancÃ© and his family,â€ continued Aguilera. â€œHe was really looking forward to going home to a huge family reunion that he had been planning for years.â€
Capt. David Wisniewski, who passed away due to his injuries almost one month after the crash occurred, was the â€œPedro 66â€ pilot.
â€œWisniewski was extremely intelligent… scary smart,â€ said Aguilera. â€œHe was a great multi-tasker and could do things I didnâ€™t know the â€˜60â€™ was capable of.
â€œHe was also a huge sci-fi geek, but he started watching Glee,â€ Aguilera recollected with a smile. â€œHe would record episodes and make everyone watch.â€
The fifth Airman, Capt. Joel Gentz, was the first Combat Rescue Officer to be killed in combat.
â€œJoel was excellent at everything – his job, being a leader – he was a well-rounded individual,â€ said Maj. Jose Cabrera, 58th RQS director of operations. â€œWhenever we needed help with something, he was the first to volunteer. He always had a positive attitude and a big smile.â€
In light of the upcoming two-year anniversary of the crash, the members of the Nellis rescue squadrons wanted to do something to remember these five heroes who were their friends.
â€œJoel was also an avid runner and he loved to help other people run,â€ said Cabrera. So when we were deciding how we can commemorate him and the other members of the crew who passed away, we thought we should put together a memorial run.
As a result, the 58th and 66th Rescue Squadrons created a memorial run event which honors the â€œPedro 66â€ Airmen and benefits the â€œThat Others May Liveâ€ Foundation, which is a non-profit charitable organization that provides scholarships, family counseling, and aid to surviving children of the U.S. Air Force rescue heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice during a rescue mission, training or other personnel recovery collateral mission.
The event will take place Friday, June 8th at 7 a.m. at the 58th Rescue Squadron. All proceeds will benefit the TOML foundation. For more information about the run, contact Jared Jaime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
â€œItâ€™s always important to honor fallen comrades,â€ said Master Sgt. Derek Docter, 88th TES Operations NCO in charge. Even though theyâ€™re gone, they and their families are not forgotten. This run is our way of remembering.â€