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Fairchild’s fallen remembered… One year later “Freedom is Never Free”

Members from the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Honor Guard team carry photos of fallen crew members of Shell 77 during a memorial service held in their honor May 9, 2013, at Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. The three crew members perished May 3, 2013, when their KC-135 Stratotanker crashed in northern Kyrgyzstan. All three were deployed to the 376th AEW's 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephanie Rubi)

Members from the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Honor Guard team carry photos of fallen crew members of Shell 77 during a memorial service held in their honor May 9, 2013, at Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. The three crew members perished May 3, 2013, when their KC-135 Stratotanker crashed in northern Kyrgyzstan. All three were deployed to the 376th AEW's 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephanie Rubi)

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- On Saturday, May 3, 2014, we will pause at 10 a.m. on our memorial walk near the chapel to unveil the Shell 77 memorial. It will be a short ceremony, it will be simple, it will be elegant--it will mirror the monument itself. The purpose of us gathering a year later is two-fold.

One, we as a Fairchild family are gathering to tell the families, to tell the generations that follow us that we will not forget Capts. Tyler Voss and Tory Pinckney and Tech Sgt. Tre Mackey. A year ago last May, we gathered to remember each one of them as Airmen. On Saturday, we gather to vow to never forget. The memorial fulfills this vision. Its central granite marker soars skyward, representing our Airmen's love of flight, with the three separate benches symbolically showing these skilled Airmen as a team, a KC-135 seated crew on a trajectory to the north heavens, following their moral compass to put nation above self. Generations from now, we will pass by and see the granite strength and remember this crew never quit fighting a crippled jet, they never gave up...they were professional Airmen, they were American Airmen.

Two, as we stand together, we show the resilient base we have proven ourselves to be. The ceremony will start with a flyover because that is what we do...we fly, fight and win. Less than one day after we lost Shell 77, American KC-135 Airmen started flying again because we had to--the soldiers on the ground needed us. Over the past year, our Airmen have never stopped serving others so they may prevail. The tanker is always there. Yes, we are resilient. Despite the incredible tragedy, we remain triumphant as a Wing. The wounds from the loss of our Airmen will never heal, but our resiliency over the past year in my estimation has created scar tissue that has kept us strong. Our Airmen's ultimate sacrifice in the skies of Kyrgyzstan led to safety findings that have improved our checklists, simulators and aviation awareness. More importantly, our strong memories of them propel us forward with grit and conviction keeping us flying high.

So, one year later, we gather together as a wing, as a base, as a community and as a family to proclaim we will not forget our valiant Airmen. We gather together to show we are resilient. We thank all the families for their patience and understanding over a turbulent year and we salute a community for closing ranks to demonstrate their amazing love of military and love of country. Likewise, thank you Team Fairchild for showing yourself to be simply remarkable in moving forward against the loss of our Airmen, sequester and government shutdown. We know failure is not an option. Sunshine always follows the rain and this day of remembrance we positively affirm we will never forget our three fallen Airmen. The granite memorial is testament to their fortitude. It is also testament that our noble Airmen showed us freedom is never free.