AFSOC CE cleans up crash site

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- On March 31, 2005, eight Air Force Special Operations Command crew members from the 7th Special Operations Squadron, 352nd Special Operations Group, and one crew member from Detachment 2, 25th Intelligence Operations Squadron, RAF Mildenhall, died when their MC-130H Combat Talon II crashed in mountainous southern Albania, near the remote village of Rovia.

The crash affected not only the families of the fallen heroes but also the people of Albania and their natural resources.

In June 2005, Art Kolodziejski, AFSOC Environmental Division and project manager of the crash site clean-up, traveled to Albania to assess the crash site. He tested soil, groundwater and surface water for contamination levels and returned to Hurlburt Field to devise a clean-up plan.
“Albania has no specific environmental legislation governing how they must treat contamination, and they lack the financial means and infrastructure to effectively address the problems,” said Mr. Kolodziejski.

“So we cleaned it up for them, for the same reason we do here at home, because it’s the right thing to do,” said John Steele, AFSOC Environmental Division and project scientist for the clean-up effort.

After analyzing the test results and devising a plan to clean up the site, Mr. Kolodziejski and Mr. Steele returned to Albania in September 2005 with Chris Hood, a Department of Defense contractor. They met with the Office of Defense Cooperation and United States Embassy officials to discuss the details of the plan. They also met with Albanian mayors and coordinated local support.

They hired a dozen local workers and contracted locally for supplies and equipment. Additionally during the two-week project, the team lived in a small house in Rovia, whose residents were the first responders after the crash.

They endured rustic living conditions such as limited plumbing and electricity, dined with the villagers on customary cuisine such as rotisserie goat, and traveled the two-and-a-half-mile one-way trip each day to the crash site by foot, alongside the local workers.
“By getting them involved in the project, they took ownership and showed pride in the job they did,” said Mr. Steele.

By the end of September, they’d removed, transported and disposed of two tons of debris. Soil contaminated by fuel was excavated, aired out and replaced onto the mountain trail. They removed dead and decaying vegetation and devised erosion control measures to ensure the stability of the site. Finally, they landscaped the site to improve the aesthetics of the area.

Most importantly, they removed the source of contamination, improved the stability of the site and were embraced by the U.S. Ambassador and families of fallen heroes for their actions.
They also made a very personal impact on the residents of Rovia, Albania and the city of Kukur, located approximately eight miles away, where most of the workers lived.

Not only did they clean up the site, they also developed friendships, effectively winning the hearts and minds of the local community.

When the project was finished, a ceremony was held in Kukur where the AFSOC environmental team thanked the community for the support they provided for the clean-up effort. U.S. Ambassador to Albania, Marcie B. Ries, and the father of deceased pilot, Capt. Todd Bracy, attended the ceremony.

“At the ceremony, the deputy mayor of Kukur, Fatmir Shuli, said that his city would look upon the crew members who died as their own sons,” said Mike Applegate, chief of AFSOC Environmental Division.

“He said that they are part of the mountain now, and his city will memorialize the crash site.”
“While nothing can bring back these fallen Airmen, the coalition formed during this clean-up project will long be remembered in the villages of Rovia and Kukur, Albania, as well as in the AFSOC community,” said Mr. Kolodziejski.