Faces of the fallen The 16 U.S. Marines who were killed in last week’s air dis­as­ter

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY THOMAS GIBBONS-NEFF AND ALEX HOR­TON thomas.gibbons­neff@wash­post.com alex.hor­ton@wash­post.com

On Fri­day, the Marine Corps iden­ti­fied the 15 Marines and one Navy sailor killed when their air­craft crashed last this week in the worst avi­a­tion ac­ci­dent for the Marines in more than a decade.

The an­nounce­ment came two days af­ter a Marine gen­eral told the pub­lic that early in­di­ca­tions in the crash in­ves­ti­ga­tion point to some type of mas­sive me­chan­i­cal fail­ure while the four-en­gine cargo air­craft was at cruis­ing al­ti­tude. Eye­wit­nesses said they saw the plane break apart in flight and crashed in a field in western Mis­sis­sippi.

Brig. Gen. Bradley James, com­man­der of the 4th Marine Air Wing, told re­porters Wed­nes­day that the plane, a KC-130T from Marine Aerial Re­fu­eler Trans­port Squadron (VMGR) 452 with the call sign Yan­kee 72, was fly­ing from an air­field in North Carolina to Yuma, Ariz., to trans­port six Marines and one sailor from the 2nd Marine Raider Bat­tal­ion, a Spe­cial Operations unit, when it went down.

Five of those from the 2nd Raider Bat­tal­ion were part of Marine Spe­cial Operations Team 8231, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral ac­tive and for­mer ser­vice mem­bers fa­mil­iar with the ac­ci­dent. The same team was in­volved in a 2015 he­li­copter crash in Florida. That crash — the re­sult of bad weather dur­ing a train­ing ex­er­cise — left 11 dead, seven from 8231. Al­though the Marines were from the same team, those who were in a se­cond he­li­copter in 2015 had ro­tated out of the unit be­fore Mon­day’s in­ci­dent.

The air­craft con­tained the Marines’ weapons and am­mu­ni­tion, prompt­ing bomb dis­posal teams and the Bureau of Al­co­hol, Tobacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives to re­spond to the scene.

About 4 p.m. lo­cal time Mon­day, the air­craft dropped off radar and crashed in fields near the town of Itta Bena, Miss. There were two dis­tinct crash sites nearly a mile apart, and the flames from the wreck­age burned well into the night. One eye­wit­ness told the As­so­ci­ated Press that he heard a boom and looked up to see the air­craft tum­bling out of the sky par­tially aflame.

The KC-130T is an older vari­ant of the KC line of cargo and re­fu­el­ing air­craft but is part of the broader C-130 fam­ily. The Cold War-era plane is known for its tough­ness, mul­ti­ple fire-sup­pres­sion sys­tems and an above-av­er­age safety record. It is un­clear what could have brought it down. The catas­tro­phe oc­curred so sud­denly that the pilots were un­able to make a ra­dio call be­fore the crash.

The names of the dead are be­low. In­for­ma­tion was pro­vided by the Marine Corps, in­ter­views and news re­ports:

From Marine Aerial Re­fu­eler Trans­port Squadron 452, based in New­burgh, N.Y.: Maj. Caine M. Goyette

Goyette, 41, joined the Marines in De­cem­ber 1994 and was the high­est-rank­ing ser­vice mem­ber aboard Yan­kee 72. He was sta­tioned with VMGR 452 and de­ployed to Afghanistan twice, once in 2005 and again in 2014. He also sup­ported the Marines’ over­seas con­tin­gency forces in 2011 and 2012. He had three Navy and Marine Corps Com­men­da­tion Medals and two Navy and Marine Corps Achieve­ment Medals.

Capt. Sean E. El­liott

El­liott, 30, orig­i­nally from South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, joined the Corps in 1994 and at­tained the rank of cap­tain in Oc­to­ber 2013. His fa­ther told the San Diego Union Tri­bune that as a boy, El­liott would sleep with a model of the air­craft aboard which he would die: a C-130. “He slept with it like you would a teddy bear. A big plane, in the bed. A silly plas­tic thing, with the toy sol­diers in­side. It went to bed with him ev­ery night for quite a long time,” his fa­ther, John, said. El­liott leaves be­hind his wife, Cather­ine.

Gun­nery Sgt. Mark A. Hop­kins

Hop­kins, 34, showed up to boot camp a week be­fore the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks. From Chesapeake, Va., the se­nior en­listed Marine held the job of tac­ti­cal sys­tems op­er­a­tor and was the air­craft’s mis­sion spe­cial­ist. He de­ployed to Afghanistan mul­ti­ple times and served over­seas on at least one hu­man­i­tar­ian mis­sion. He was “one of the calmest, most easy­go­ing, Zen peo­ple in any walk of life,” said Russ Hardin, a for­mer Marine sergeant who served as a nav­i­ga­tor in Hop­kins’s squadron, ac­cord­ing to the New York Times. “He didn’t know how not to be a friend,” Hardin said.

Gun­nery Sgt. Bren­dan John­son

John­son, 45, had al­ready put enough time in to re­tire by 2014, but he kept serv­ing in what he called “the best job in the Corps,” his fa­ther, Kevin, told the Burling­ton Free Press.

“He loved fly­ing with the Marine Corps,” the el­der John­son said. John­son en­listed in 1994 as a load­mas­ter, play­ing a cru­cial role in en­sur­ing cargo and fuel were prop­erly placed within the air­craft. His last specialty was as crew­mas­ter of the KC-130 fol­low­ing jobs sup­port­ing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002 and 2003.

Staff Sgt. Joshua M. Snow­den

Snow­den, 31, served in the Marine Corps for eight years and was ap­par­ently pro­moted to staff sergeant on July 10. Snow­den grew up in the Dal­las area as an avid fan of the Dal­las Cow­boys, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal me­dia.

He left a deep im­pres­sion on High­land Park lacrosse coach Bruce Nolly.

“What a great young man and cor­dial, friendly guy,” Nolly told lo­cal af­fil­i­ate Fox 4. “He got along with ev­ery­body on the team.”

Snow­den, a KC-130 crew­mas­ter along with John­son, earned cam­paign medals for sup­port­ing operations in Afghanistan and in Op­er­a­tion In­her­ent Re­solve, the on­go­ing mis­sion against the Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Sgt. Ju­lian M. Ke­vianne

A Detroit na­tive, Ke­vianne, 31, en­listed in the Marine Corps in 2009 and later sup­ported operations in Afghanistan as a KC-130 crew­mas­ter. News of Ke­vianne’s death quickly spread, with neigh­bors com­ing to lend sup­port, his brother, Carlo Ke­vianne, told the Detroit Free Press.

“The Marines knocked on my mother’s door at 2 this morning,” Carlo Ke­vianne told the paper. “They said his plane went down and they weren’t able to find him.”

Their mother, Tina Albo, carved a trib­ute to her son in freshly poured con­crete. “Peace of my heart is in heaven,” the mes­sage read.

Sgt. Owen J. Len­non

Len­non, 26, of Pomona, N.Y., en­listed in the Marine Corps two years af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school, where he played foot­ball and tennis. The KC-130 crew­mas­ter flew mis­sions in sup­port of operations in Afghanistan in 2012.

Len­non’s older sis­ter, Kelly, hon­ored her brother in a trib­ute posted on Face­book.

“You may have been the youngest, but we al­ways looked up to you. Our hero, Owen Len­non. Send­ing love to the other USMC fam­i­lies that lost loved ones last night,” she wrote.

Cpl. Daniel I. Bal­das­sare

Bal­das­sare, 20, from Colts Neck, N.J., was just two years into his en­list­ment when he died. He had yet to de­ploy. His Face­book pro­file showed him in a photo wear­ing a foot­ball uni­form and said he had worked at Wawa. His lone fa­vorite quote on the so­cial me­dia web­site was a Marine Corps adage: “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.”

Cpl. Collin J. Schaaff

Schaaff, 22, started his ser­vice in 2013. A na­tive of Pierce County, Wash., Schaaff was an air­craft ord­nance tech­ni­cian. He had no de­ploy­ments at the time of his death but was the re­cip­i­ent of two let­ters of ap­pre­ci­a­tion from his com­mand and a cer­tifi­cate of com­men­da­tion. He leaves be­hind a wife, a 1-year-old daugh­ter and an un­born baby, ac­cord­ing to a Go­FundMe page set up to sup­port his fam­ily. From 2nd Marine Raider Bat­tal­ion, Camp Le­je­une, N.C.

Staff Sgt. Robert H. Cox

Cox, 28, of Ven­tura, Calif., joined the Marines in 2007. He de­ployed to Iraq in 2009 and 2010, and to Afghanistan in 2011. In 2016, he de­ployed again to sup­port the war against the Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria. He held the job of crit­i­cal skills op­er­a­tor, the standard ti­tle for a Marine who has com­pleted the months-long pipe­line to be­come a Marine Raider. He was a two-time re­cip­i­ent of the Navy and Marine Corps Achieve­ment Medal and the Com­bat Ac­tion Rib­bon.

Staff Sgt. Wil­liam J. Kun­drat

The most se­nior Marine Raider aboard Yan­kee 72, Kun­drat, 33, joined the branch in 2002 and cut his teeth in com­bat dur­ing the ini­tial in­va­sion of Iraq the fol­low­ing year. He would de­ploy to the coun­try again in 2005 and 2006 and a fi­nal time to fight the Is­lamic State in 2015. He also de­ployed to Sene­gal in 2010. He was the re­cip­i­ent of a num­ber of awards, in­clud­ing the De­fense Mer­i­to­ri­ous Ser­vice Medal and the Com­bat Ac­tion Rib­bon.

Sgt. Chad E. Jen­son

Jen­son, 25, ar­rived at boot camp in 2010 and picked up the rank of sergeant in just over four years, an im­pres­sive achieve­ment for any en­listed mem­ber of the military.

Orig­i­nally from Los An­ge­les, the Marine Raider was re­mem­bered as gen­uine and self­less by his high school foot­ball team­mates and coach, ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle in lo­cal news­pa­per the Daily Breeze. “This kid was a true Amer­i­can and a true pa­triot,” said Chuck Ar­ra­smith, Jen­son’s of­fen­sive line coach.

Sgt. Talon R. Leach

Leach, 27, a Marine Raider, be­gan his ca­reer in 2010 and picked up the rank of sergeant in 2013. Orig­i­nally from Call­away County, Mo., Leach de­ployed once to fight the Is­lamic State in 2015. He is a re­cip­i­ent of the Navy and Marine Corp Achieve­ment Medal. His Face­book page is sparse but says he was mar­ried.

Sgt. Joseph J. Mur­ray

Mur­ray, 26, a Marine Raider, was born in Cal­i­for­nia but spent his child­hood in Jack­sonville, Fla. Af­ter start­ing his time on ac­tive duty in 2009, he de­ployed to Afghanistan twice and had re­ceived three Navy and Marine Corps Achieve­ment Medals and the Com­bat Ac­tion Rib­bon at the time of his death. His fa­ther, Terry Mur­ray, told his son he wanted him to be a me­chanic or an in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, ac­cord­ing to a re­port in the Florida-Times Union, but the fu­ture Spe­cial Operations Marine said he wanted to be an in­fantry­man “be­cause that’s the hard­est thing to do.”

Sgt. Di­et­rich A. Sch­mie­man

Sch­mie­man, 26, went to boot camp in 2010 and served in Ok­i­nawa, Ja­pan, be­fore head­ing to North Carolina to be­come a Marine Raider. He was orig­i­nally from Ben­ton County, Wash. Ayrald Hu­bert, one of Sch­mie­man’s good friends from Han­ford High School, re­called a goofy kid in love with camp­ing and ski­ing. Sch­mie­man “was one of the nicest guys imag­in­able, and his friend­ship ex­tended to ev­ery­one,” Hu­bert said. “He was re­ally just an in­cred­i­ble hu­man be­ing.”

Petty Of­fi­cer 2nd Class Ryan M. Lohrey

The only sailor of the group, Lohrey, 30, ar­rived at ba­sic train­ing in 2007 be­fore go­ing to corps­man school. Lohrey was a spe­cial am­phibi­ous re­con­nais­sance corps­man, a cov­eted class of sailors with spe­cial train­ing to help their wounded com­rades in some of the most aus­tere con­di­tions. Be­fore join­ing 2nd Raider Bat­tal­ion, Lohrey served with Marine Re­con­nais­sance units, in which he earned a rep­u­ta­tion in Afghanistan as be­ing one of the best in his field. He was wounded in com­bat, and then de­ployed again to fight the Is­lamic State in July 2016. He re­turned in Jan­uary. “He was a great friend. A role-model per­son. His pro­fes­sional pride will be missed,” said a Marine who once served be­side Lohrey. “He per­son­i­fied the Re­con­nais­sance Creed, even though he was a corps­man, and lived it ev­ery day.” Dan Lamothe con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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