INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --
Airmen from the 22d Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron and the tanker community paused for 77 seconds of synchronized silence to commemorate the legacy of the fallen heroes of “Shell 77” May 3, 2019, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.
Six years ago, the air refueling community lost three of their own when a KC-135R crashed in Chaldovar, Kyrgyz Republic, after departing to conduct a combat mission. The aircrew members who died were Capt. Mark T. Voss; Capt. Victoria A. Pinckney; and Tech Sgt. Herman “Tre” Mackey III., who were deployed to the 22d EARS in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“Today we stand together to remember three fellow ‘Mighty Mules’ who gave their lives in support of our country,” said Lt. Col. Jessica Guarini, 22d Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron commander. “They took the flight that day supporting our nation’s call. Twenty-four-seven we fuel the fight for freedom, providing gas to those who need it, protecting our nation’s allies and unleashing hell on those who wish us harm. You three have taught us tomorrow is not guaranteed and freedom is not free. Whether in body or in spirit, your legacy of valor and hope continue to serve the cause of freedom.”
Following this tragedy, the 22d EARS stood down for a mere 16 hours. The need for airpower was constant and coalition partners relied on the unit to continue fueling the fight because the enemy does not rest in trying to disrupt the western world’s way of life.
“Evil takes no breaks, nor do we,” said Guarini. “Without answers to the cause of the mishap and without hesitation, tanker crews continued to stoke the flames, allowing our partners to deliberately, rapidly and lethally project airpower.”
Airpower is inherently dangerous and doesn’t discriminate; as the skies rained for one hour only during the ceremony, not unlike when the remains arrived back on home soil, those in attendace understood the gravity of selfless service.
“Pausing to remember them helps us keep it all into perspective,” said Master Sgt. Theodore Dinwiddie, 22d EARS superintendent. “We fly a lot of sorties every day and nothing goes wrong, but anything can go wrong because what we do is dangerous. Flying airplanes is dangerous and connecting to airplanes while in-flight going 500 miles per hour adds extra layers of danger. We have to remember not to take anything for granted.”
Although some in attendance may have not personally known the Shell 77 crew, their willingness to pay the ultimate sacrifice for freedom serves as a constant reminder of their bravery.
“Remembering those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, in any AFSC, is critical to our past, present and future as a fighting force,” said Master Sgt. Eric Thomsen, 22d EARS first sergeant. “As a First Sergeant, I have the privilege of serving Airmen across many different AFSCs and learning about their unit’s heritage. In the tanker community, I’ve been humbled that an important part of their heritage is honoring their fallen brothers and sister of Shell 77. The KC-135 community does a fantastic job every May 3, preserving that heritage in honoring the lost crew of Shell 77.”