203rd RED HORSE memorial service honors 12th anniversary of fatal airplane crash

The Virginia Air National Guard's Virginia Beach-based 203rd RED HORSE Squadron holds a memorial service March 3, 2013, at Camp Pendleton to honor 18 unit members and three Florida Army Guard aviators who perished when the C-23 Sherpa they were flying in crashed in a cotton field near Unadilla, Ga. 12 years ago. The 18 engineers and three Florida aviators from Detachment 1, 171st Aviation Battalion, were killed March 3, 2001, as the 203rd members were returning home after completing a two-week military construction project at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The C-23 crash was the worst peacetime aviation disaster in the history of the National Guard, and the worst loss of life in the Virginia National Guard since World War II.

The Virginia Air National Guard’s Virginia Beach-based 203rd RED HORSE Squadron holds a memorial service March 3, 2013, at Camp Pendleton to honor 18 unit members and three Florida Army Guard aviators who perished when the C-23 Sherpa they were flying in crashed in a cotton field near Unadilla, Ga., 12 years ago. The 18 engineers and three Florida aviators from Detachment 1, 171st Aviation Battalion, were killed March 3, 2001, as the 203rd members were returning home after completing a two-week military construction project at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The C-23 crash was the worst peacetime aviation disaster in the history of the National Guard, and the worst loss of life in the Virginia National Guard since World War II. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Virginia Beach-based 203rd RED HORSE Squadron held a brief ceremony to lay an honor wreath March 3, 2013, at Camp Pendleton in Virginia Beach to honor the 18 unit members and three Florida Army National Guard aviators who were killed in a military transport crash 12 years ago.
The Virginia Guard engineers and three Florida aviators from Detachment I, Company H, 171st Aviation Battalion were killed on March 3, 2001, as the 203rd members were returning home after completing a two-week military construction project at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The C-23 Sherpa they were flying in crashed in a cotton field near Unadilla, Ga.

The C-23 crash was the worst peacetime aviation disaster in the history of the National Guard, and the worst loss of life in the Virginia National Guard since World War II.

Lt. Col. Stock Dinsmore, 203rd RHS Deputy Commander reflected, “This memorial service is all about remembrance, providing the opportunity for the young members of our unit to know about the loss we all experienced…it’s important to honor our fallen Soldiers and Airmen, and show them what they mean to us.” Dinsmore has been with the 203rd RHS for 16 years and knew many of the fallen Airmen personally. “We work hard together, we are just like a family and we stand by each other and support each other, so the loss was hard on everyone.”

The Virginia Air National Guard's Virginia Beach-based 203rd RED HORSE Squadron holds a memorial service March 3, 2013, at Camp Pendleton to honor 18 unit members and three Florida Army Guard aviators who perished when the C-23 Sherpa they were flying in crashed in a cotton field near Unadilla, Ga. 12 years ago. The 18 engineers and three Florida aviators from Detachment 1, 171st Aviation Battalion, were killed March 3, 2001, as the 203rd members were returning home after completing a two-week military construction project at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The C-23 crash was the worst peacetime aviation disaster in the history of the National Guard, and the worst loss of life in the Virginia National Guard since World War II.

A bugler from the Virginia Air National Guard’s Virginia Beach-based 203rd RED HORSE Squadron performs during a memorial service March 3, 2013, at Camp Pendleton to honor 18 unit members and three Florida Army Guard aviators who perished when the C-23 Sherpa they were flying in crashed in a cotton field near Unadilla, Ga., 12 years ago. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The ceremony took place at the memorial built for the fallen Airmen. The memorial takes the form of a reflection or meditation garden complete with the unit’s mascot: a life-size, rearing red horse. The 30,000-square-foot memorial also includes a large bronze Minuteman statue rising up from a clear pool in front of a waterfall, and a second red horse. This horse kneels in front of a memorial made from a 7,000-pound, black granite boulder with the names of the 21 National Guardsmen etched into it’s one polished surface.

Encircling the border of the memorial is a winding path embracing 22 Bradford pear trees, and a plaque at the base of each tree honors each one of the Guardsmen. The 22nd tree bears a plaque honoring those who died during the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, which took place four days before the groundbreaking of the 203rd’s memorial on Sept. 15, 2001.

The memorial incorporates ideas from several 203rd members and used a range of the construction skills found in RED HORSE units. Members of the 203rd, assisted by RED HORSE units from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Washington, Montana and Texas, built most of the memorial.

Master Sgt. Alfred Dirosa, the 203rd RHS Structures Supervisor lost his brother-in-law, Master Sgt. Dean Shelby to the crash. “We joined the Air Force together,” said Dirosa. “He brought me to the RHS.” Dirosa remembered, “Master Sgt. Shelby had a great attitude and was a hard worker. In 2001, I almost left the unit but after his death I felt a renewed commitment to the unit and my family to finish my service with the 203rd RHS.” Dirosa volunteered to help build the memorial. “It was good to work with a great group of Airmen on such a meaningful memorial.”

RED HORSE stands for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, and the unit provides a highly mobile civil engineering response force to support contingency operations worldwide.
203rd RED HORSE Airmen lost in the crash: 

– Senior Master Sgt. James Beninati of Virginia Beach, Va.

– Tech. Sgt. Paul Blancato of Norfolk, Va.

– Master Sgt. Ernest Blawas of Virginia Beach, Va.

– Tech. Sgt. Andrew H. Bridges of Chesapeake, Va.

– Senior Master Sgt. Eric Bulman of Virginia Beach, Va.

– Tech. Sgt. Paul Cramer of Norfolk, Va.

– Master Sgt. Michael East of Parksley, Va.

– Technical Sgt. Ronald Elkin of Norfolk, Va.

– Tech. Sgt. James Ferguson of Newport News, Va.

– Tech. Sgt. Randy Johnson of Emporia, Va.

– Staff Sgt. Mathrew Kidd of Hampton, Va.

– Senior Master Sgt. Michael Lane of Moyock, Va.

– Master Sgt. Edwin Richardson of Virginia Beach, Va.

– Master Sgt. Dean Shelby of Virginia Beach, Va.

– Tech. Sgt. John Sincavage of Chesapeake, Va.

– Tech. Sgt. Gregory Skurupey of Gloucester, Va.

– Tech. Sgt Richard Summerell of Franklin, Va.

– Maj. Frederick Watkins of Virginia Beach, Va.

Florida Army Guard Soldiers lost in the crash: 

– Chief Warrant Officer 4 Johnny W. Duce of Orange Park, Fla.

– Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eric P. Larson of Land-O-Lakes, Fla.

– Staff Sgt. Robert F. Ward Jr. of Lakeland, Fla.


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Photos: Memorial service marks 12th anniversary of fatal airplane crash