Competition of physical, mental strength honors 31 fallen heroes

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Air Force photograph by Airman 1s Class Caleb Worpel

On Aug. 6, 2011, two U.S. Army CH-47D Chinook helicopters, named Extortion 16 and Extortion 17, took off into the night sky from a remote location in Afghanistan.

One of those helicopters, Extortion 17, would not return, nor would the 31 military members on board. Shortly after liftoff, the Chinook was shot down by an RPG from Taliban fighters, killing the entire crew.

Luke Thunderbolts participated in a competition of strength and mental toughness to honor these 31 heroes who lost their lives during the single greatest loss of American life in the Afghan war.

“We always do workouts to symbolize our fallen heroes,” said Sherri Biringer, 56th Force Support Squadron fitness specialist supervisor. “The event was developed in 2012. CrossFit boxes and military installations continue to do this event honoring the fallen. This year we took it one step further, made it a challenge and invited everyone who would not know about it otherwise.”

Staff Sgt. Michael Harkavi, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordinance disposal team leader, was stationed in Afghanistan during the time of the crash and also participated in the 31 heroes event at Luke.

Senior Airman Frank Lopez, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordinance team member, performs a barbell thruster during the 31 heroes competition held at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., August 4, 2017. Lopez participated in the 31 heroes competition which honored the lives of 31 military members who lost their lives in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2011.

“I was there to actually pickup and help transfer the remains of the fallen to get shipped back home to their families,” Harkavi said. “It’s important that we remember and for everyone else to realize what happened and how many people were impacted from that day.”

The event was held in the Combat PT tent on Friday, August 4. The competition consisted of a variation of thrusters, rope climbs, box jumps and a run. Three different sessions took place in which Airmen performed as many rounds as possible of each exercise in 31 minutes.

Airmen assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing are briefed on proper exercise procedures during the 31 heroes competition at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., August 4, 2017. The competition was designed to test participant’s strength and mental toughness in honor of the 31 heroes who lost their lives during the single greatest loss of American life in the Afghan war in 2011.

“This event was originally developed to help the families of these heroes,” Biringer said. “Later, it would help raise awareness of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. The event is long and grueling, but brings out mental and physical toughness in everyone.
The impact it holds is to build a stronger community. One that can stand beside each other in good times and bad.”

The crew on board Extortion 17 consisted of 13 military members from SEAL Team Six, two other Navy SEALS, five Navy special operations members, three Air Force special tactics Airmen, seven Afghan National Army commandos and one military working dog.

“These heroes have left behind more than just a story, they have given us a legacy to honor,” Biringer said. “This competition helps us ensure the mission to honor the fallen lives on and veterans are not forgotten when they return home. We have to be a wingman to everyone.
 

Haleigh Wheat, 31 heroes competition participant, performs a barbell thruster during the 31 heroes competition held at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., August 4, 2017. Service members from each branch were present during the competition which was open to anyone who wanted to participate.

 

Master Sgt. Douglas Teutsch, 56th Communications Squadron client services section chief, runs with a 40 pound bag on his shoulders during the 31 heroes competition held at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., August 4, 2017. The event was held in the Combat PT tent and consisted of a variation of thrusters, rope climbs, box jumps and a run.

 

Staff Sgt. Michael Harkavi, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordinance disposal team leader, performs a rope climbing exercise during the 31 heroes competition held at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., August 4, 2017. Harkavi was stationed in Afghanistan when a U.S. Army CH-47D Chinook helicopter crashed, killing its entire 31 man crew. Harkavi assisted with the cleanup and transfer of remains of the fallen back home to their families.