Friday, June 6, 2014

Yukla 27.....the Memorial

      I served 22 years in the U.S. Air Force flying thousands of hours on the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System, retiring in October 1993.   Not all sacrifices are a result of combat.  Unfortunately, some are the result of training for the possibility of war.  September 22, 1995 changed my world forever.   That morning an E-3 aircraft tail #70354 prepared for another routine surveillance training mission from Elemendorf AFB, Alaska.  The mission call sign was YUKLA 27.  'Yukla' is the Alaskan native term for the word 'Eagle'.  Upon takeoff the aircraft was engulfed by a flock of Canadian Geese which were ingested and subsequently killed 2 of the 4 aircraft engines.  Despite their valiant efforts the flight crew was not able to turn and perform an emergency landing; crashing with all 24 of the crew perishing.  When I heard the news I was initially stunned beyond belief, not knowing what to feel; perhaps not believing the news at all.  The body knows when to feel what it feels and in the end crushed me for weeks. 

     I knew all of these crewmembers, having served and flown with them at one point or another during my career.  Barb knew many of them as well.  Especially painful for me was losing two very close comrades, SSgt Scott Bresson and TSgt Chuck Sweet.  Both men were great crewmembers and a credit to their country.  Chuck and I flew together many times as well, working for me several years in the Wing's Standardization Evaluation Division.  Scott and I also flew together many times.  I evaluated him on his Instructor Flight Evaluation; later nominating him for a Wing Flight Evaluator position as well.
     Our relationships went beyond the professional as we shared a great love for the outdoors.  I sold Chuck his first Brittany Spaniel hunting dog pup;  he and I hunted together searching for quail in the prairies of western Oklahoma.  I taught Scott to archery hunt for whitetails in Oklahoma.  I helped his wife Lisa shop for his first compound bow as a surprise birthday present.  I was so very jealous when they got their orders to Alaska. 
     All 24 crewmembers were great men, sons, fathers, husbands, and warriors.  I have always promised myself that I would one day travel to Alaska to visit the monument erected in their honor.  This memorial is located outside the Wing HQ at JBER-Elmendorf in Anchorage.  I have always taken a moment each and every year on the date of this tragedy to pause and honor these men and the sacrifice they made for all of us. 

     Today I pause and visit with each of my fallen friends one last time.  We are all of one skin, one fabric, and ever will be;  woven throughout which our heritage has been forever preserved.  I salute you all. 

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