Com­mu­nity hon­ors slain Air Force pi­lot

Record Observer - - Front Page -

CENTREVILLE — This week, nearly 10 years af­ter he was killed in com­bat op­er­a­tions in Iraq, U.S. forces brought home the re­mains of F-16 Fight­ing Fal­con pi­lot Ma­jor Troy Gil­bert, who died sav­ing the lives of U.S. ser­vice mem­bers and coali­tion al­lies.

The Church Hill and Good­will fire com­pa­nies raised their ladders over U.S. 301 at the in­ter­sec­tion of Mary­land Route 19 on the morn­ing of Mon­day, Dec. 19, as an es­cort head­ing to Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery was pass­ing through Queen Anne’s County. Hang­ing from the top of the raised ladders was

the Amer­i­can flag draped over the high­way.

Along­side the road were com­mu­nity mem­bers wav­ing Amer­i­can Flags as the es­cort passed by. About 10 peo­ple showed up to honor the ser­vice­man.

On Nov. 27, 2006, Gil­bert and his wing­man were fly­ing back to base when they got the call that an AH-6 Lit­tle Bird he­li­copter had been shot down. En­emy in­sur­gents had the crew, along with the coali­tion forces called in to sup­port, out­num­bered and pinned down.

With lit­tle fuel left, the two F-16 pi­lots changed course and headed to the hotly con­tested war zone just out­side of Taji, Iraq. Due to fuel lim­i­ta­tions, the pi­lots were forced to take turns re­fu­el­ing and pro­vid­ing air sup­port to the troops un­der fire. By the time Gil­bert was able to make his first ap­proach, the calls for sup­port had grown more ur­gent. In­sur­gents at­tacked with truck-mounted heavy ma­chine guns, rock­et­pro­pelled grenades, small arms fire and mor­tars.

He fired on the en­emy forces dur­ing a dy­namic and dif­fi­cult flight pro­file, im­pact­ing the ground at high speed on the sec­ond pass. Re­ports say the crash killed him in­stantly. How­ever, Al Qaeda in­sur­gents took Gil­bert’s body be­fore U.S. forces were able to get to the scene, lead­ing to 10 long years of a fam­ily wait­ing for their hus­band, fa­ther, son and brother to come home.

Fol­low­ing the ac­ci­dent, U.S. forces re­cov­ered DNA which pro­vided enough in­for­ma­tion to pos­i­tively iden­tify Gil­bert. His funeral, with full mil­i­tary hon­ors, fol­lowed Dec. 11, 2006 at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery. In Septem­ber 2012, some ad­di­tional, but very lim­ited, re­mains were re­cov­ered and in­terred dur­ing a sec­ond ser­vice Dec. 11, 2013.

Then, on Aug. 28, an Iraqi tribal leader ap­proached a U.S. mil­i­tary ad­viser near al Taqad­dam, Iraq, and pro­duced what he claimed to be ev­i­dence of the re­mains of a U.S. mil­i­tary pi­lot who had crashed in Iraq dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom. The Iraqi said he was a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of his tribe, which had the re­mains and the flight gear the pi­lot was wear­ing when he went down.

The tribal leader turned over the ev­i­dence to the U.S. ad­viser who im­me­di­ately pro­vided it to U.S. ex­perts for test­ing at the Armed Forces Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner Sys­tem at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. AFMES con­firmed the ev­i­dence Sept. 7 through DNA test­ing.

With this ver­i­fi­ca­tion, U.S. mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers in Iraq reen­gaged the tribal leader who sub­se­quently turned over the re­mains, in­clud­ing a U.S. flight suit, flight jacket and para­chute har­ness.

Gil­bert’s re­mains, promptly pre­pared for re­turn to the U.S. for test­ing, ar­rived Oct. 3 at Dover AFB. Air­men at Dover con­ducted a dig­ni­fied trans­fer upon ar­rival at the base, which was at­tended by Gil­bert’s fam­ily, base of­fi­cials and senior Air Force lead­ers, to in­clude the Sec­re­tary of the Air Force Deb­o­rah Lee James, Gold­fein, Rand, and Chief Mas­ter Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody.

AFMES con­firmed Oct. 4 through den­tal ex­am­i­na­tion and DNA test­ing that all re­mains re­ceived were those of Gil­bert. His lost re­mains had been re­cov­ered and fully repa­tri­ated.

Now, a decade later, Gil­bert has re­turned to the United States. At the re­quest of his fam­ily, his re­mains will be in­terred at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery with the re­mains orig­i­nally re­cov­ered in 2006 and 2012.

PHOTO BY MIKE DAVIS

Church Hill Vol­un­teer Fire Com­pany mem­bers Holton Gra­hamer, Brett Van­zant, Ja­son Yian­nakis and Phil Hur­lock pay their re­spects to an es­cort car­ry­ing the re­mains of Air Force pi­lot Ma­jor Troy Gil­bert on Mon­day, Dec. 19.

PHOTO BY MIKE DAVIS

Com­mu­nity mem­bers hold flags while the es­cort of Air Force pi­lot Ma­jor Troy Gil­bert, killed serv­ing in Iraq in 2006, passed through Queen Anne’s County en route to Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery in Vir­ginia. The es­cort took place on Mon­day, Dec. 19.

PHOTO BY MIKE DAVIS

A mil­i­tary es­cort that left from Dover Air Force Base and passed through Queen Anne’s County en route to Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery on Mon­day, Dec. 19, car­ried the re­mains of Air Force pi­lot Ma­jor Troy Gil­bert, who was killed serv­ing in Iraq in 2006.

Air Force pi­lot Ma­jor Troy Gil­bert.

Ge­or­gia May, left, and her brother, Shep­herd May, of Ruths­burg, visit with Santa at the Ruths­burg Com­mu­nity Cen­ter.

PHO­TOS HAN­NAH COMBS

Dun­can But­ler IV from Bar­clay asks Santa for a blow dryer for his goat.

Santa makes sure Rylee White­ley, age 7, who at­tends Ridgely Ele­men­tary School, gets a candy cane and spe­cial treat.

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