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March 31, 2023

A Tribute to the Nine Soldiers Killed in Kentucky

Two HH-60M Black Hawk helicopters collided during night operations, killing all aboard.

Military service is dangerous business, whether in combat or training for it. That was illustrated all too painfully Wednesday night when nine Army personnel aboard two HH-60M Black Hawks were killed. The soldiers were all part of the renowned 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The HH-60M version of the UH-60M they were flying in a multi-ship close formation using night vision gear is specialized for integrated MEDEVAC missions day, night, and in adverse weather, for evacuation of casualties.

Those killed were Warrant Officer 1 Jeffery Barnes, 33, of Milton, Florida; Cpl. Emilie Marie Eve Bolanos, 23, of Austin, Texas; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Zachary Esparza, 36, of Jackson, Missouri; Sgt. Isaacjohn Gayo, 27, of Los Angeles, California; Staff Sgt. Joshua C. Gore, 25, of Morehead City, North Carolina; Warrant Officer 1 Aaron Healy, 32, of Cape Coral, Florida; Staff Sgt. Taylor Mitchell, 30, of Mountain Brook, Alabama; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rusten Smith, 32, of Rolla, Missouri, and Sgt. David Solinas Jr, 23, of Oradell, New Jersey.

Their C Company 6th Aviation Regiment unit is highly respected by those with whom they flew when deployed.

Maj. Gen. JP McGee, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division and Fort Campbell, noted: “This is a time of great sadness for the 101st Airborne Division. The loss of these Soldiers will reverberate through our formations for years to come. Now is the time for grieving and healing. The whole division and this community stand behind the families and friends of our fallen Soldiers.”

The 101st is perhaps the most famous of U.S. Army divisions in history, serving a critical role in numerous major battles, including Operation Overlord (D-Day), the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of Hamburger Hill (Vietnam), and important missions through the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The crash was the deadliest flight training incident for the Army since the March 2015 crash of a Black Hawk helicopter off the Florida, killing four Louisiana Army National Guard soldiers and seven Marines. The most deadly non-combat Black Hawk crash was in 1988 at Fort Campbell, when 17 troops died in a similar incident when two helicopters collided. The most deadly of Army aircraft training incidents in Germany in 1982, when a Chinook crash killed 46 U.S. and international forces.

Various officials released heartfelt statements after the crash.

Kentucky Governor Andy Bashear: “We are blessed to live in the freest country in the history of planet Earth. But we must remember that freedom relies on those who are willing to serve. Some of whom paid the ultimate price. We’re going to wrap our arms around these families. We’re going to be there with them not just for the days, but the weeks and months and the years to come. We’re going to let them know they are loved, they are special. They’ll allow us to carry some of their grief. We’ll do that for as long as we can.”

Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) (USA Maj., retired), a combat flight surgeon noted: “These Americans died doing what they have to do, train for war to defeat our enemies when called on and to defend Liberty. They train just like they’re going to fight, which creates risk, and, unfortunately, in rare circumstances, accidents that result in deaths.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY): “Please join me in praying for everyone involved in the Fort Campbell helicopter accident, especially our service members and their families.” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): “It’s been a difficult week for our state. Please join us praying for the families of the 9 Fort Campbell service members who lost their lives in a tragic aircraft accident, and supporting their loved ones as they navigate this difficult time.” Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN): “Devastated to hear of this accident near Fort Campbell. Please join me and my family in praying for the loved ones of the brave service members who lost their lives as they endure unimaginable grief.”

Officials from the Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama, will investigate to determine what caused the crash.

We offer our gratitude for these soldiers, and may God comfort their grieving families.

And a footnote from Mark Alexander: “Notably, Joe Biden ordered flags to half-staff for a trans murder hate crime in Nashville earlier this week, but issued no such order to honor those killed at Fort Campbell. In fact, a search of the White House Briefing Room for any statement from the "commander-in-chief,” or any of his aides, turned up NO results. As I have noted previously, Biden uses flags as political agenda rags, but apparently the deaths of nine military personnel did not even get a mention.“

(Updated)

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