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Ceremony honors soldiers killed in 2003 helicopter crash at Fort Drum

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FORT DRUM — The afternoon of March 11, 2003, still hangs heavy in the mind of Matthew T. Boone, a retired forward observer.

A Black Hawk helicopter containing members of his unit, the C Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, had gone down during a brief training flight exercise near Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield. The former specialist said he initially thought it was a test for aviators until he and his comrades learned the full extent of what happened from their battalion’s commander.

Eleven soldiers were dead, seven from his company.

“Even still to this day I don’t believe it,” Mr. Boone said. “It seems like a bad dream that you wake up with cold sweats from.”

Jaye R. Lindsay, a retired machine gunner, said he felt numb when he learned the news. Before the crash, he had been waiting at the airfield to train on the next helicopter.

“It never came back ... at least that’s what I was told,” he said.

The fallen soldiers were remembered during a ceremony Monday morning at the battalion’s headquarters.

Speaking near a plaque made in 2004 to honor the soldiers, Lt. Col. Roland Dicks, the battalion’s commander, read brief biographies about the soldiers that highlighted their personalities and the families they left behind.

Col. Dicks said Spc. Lucas V. Tripp had referred to himself as a troublemaker as a kid, and said his time in the Army helped straighten his life out. Pfc. Shawn A. Mayerscik had been accepted at Pennsylvania State University and was being pushed toward a Green to Gold scholarship. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kenneth L. Miller, a father of four, enjoyed hunting and fishing.

“The names etched on the monument ... they loved, laughed and cried, just like you and me. Some were fathers, husbands and brothers, all were sons,” Col. Dicks said. “They died doing what they were asked to do.”

The crash took place when the aircraft separated from two other helicopters during its return to the airfield. The helicopter’s remains were found a few miles northeast of the airfield.

Other soldiers who died in the crash were Staff Sgt. Brian Pavlich, Sgt. John L. Eichenlaub Jr., Sgt. Joshua M. Harapko, Pfc. Tommy C. Young, Pfc. Stryder O. Stoutenburg, Spc. Barry M. Stephens, Pfc. Andrew D. Stevens and Capt. Christopher E. Britton. Other units losing soldiers that day were Company B, 2nd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, and the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment.

Two soldiers, Spc. Dmitri Petrov and Spc. Edwin A. Mejia, were injured.

Mr. Lindsay, 22 years old at the time of the crash, said he remembered thinking how much older other unit members were, such as Sgt. Pavlic, 25.

“Now I’m seven years older than him,” he said.

Mr. Lindsay, who served under the name Jamal Jawish and changed it after he left the military in 2004, said losing fellow soldiers in a routine training accident was an “unfair turn of events” after they lived through harsh conditions in Afghanistan.

Mr. Lindsay expressed sorrow at the thought of soldiers dying in the crash at 18 and 20 years old.

“It blows my mind they never had a chance to live past that,” Mr. Lindsay said. “I think every one of us has an obligation to live a good life and do something meaningful ... I guess that’s what it’s all about.”

Among the post leadership in attendance was Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, 10th Mountain Division commander. As a lieutenant colonel, Gen. Townsend led several of the soldiers involved in the crash during the previous deployment in Afghanistan. Following the ceremony, he could be seen speaking with many of the former battalion and company members. He was not available for media interviews at the ceremony.

For the members of C Company, who had already served together in Afghanistan, the loss of their fellow soldiers would bring them closer heading into later deployments in Djibouti, which started about a month after the crash, and Iraq.

About 30 former company members reunited during the weekend at Fireside at Partridge Berry Inn, 26561 Route 3, to recount their time at the post and the soldiers lost in the crash.

“There’s no way they’d ever be forgotten,” Mr. Lindsay said.



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