Community honors slain Air Force pilot
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.