Fallen Airmen memorialized forever

  • Published
  • By Capt. Tom Montgomery
  • AFSOC Public Affairs
On the heels of Memorial Day, the 720th Special Tactics Group dedicated a state-of-the-art training center and an adjacent roadway here Wednesday in honor of four Air Commandos killed in the line of duty in recent operations. 

On May 30, 2005 an Iraqi Air Force SL7 light aircraft crashed about 80 miles northeast of Baghdad, Iraq, killing Staff Sgt. Casey Crate, Capt. Derek Argel and Capt. Jeremy Fresques. Maj. Brian Downs from another Hurlburt unit, the 6th Special Operations Squadron, and an Iraqi pilot were also killed in that crash. 

Exactly two years from the day of that crash, on a gray and misty day, with a gentle brush of rain and the powerful downwash of an MH-53 PAVE LOW helicopter, a team of Special Tactics operators fast-roped in with a United States flag to hoist above a new training facility that will enshrine the names of their fallen comrades forever. 

The $7.8 million, 50,000 sq. ft. Crate Advanced Skills Training Center is formally dedicated to Sergeant Crate. The center's auditorium is dedicated to Captain Fresques and the aquatics facility to Captain Argel. 

The street adjacent to the facility has been named Servais Way, in honor of Senior Airman Adam Servais, who was killed Aug. 19, 2006 while engaged with enemy fighters in southern Afghanistan. 

"It means a lot to us that the street is forever named after Adam," said his mother, Sue Servais of Onalaska, Wis. "When you go through this grief and loss, sometimes you want to world to stop just for you, but life keeps on going. This is a way to keep his memory alive," she said. 

"Today is a bittersweet day," said the ceremony's keynote speaker and 20th Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James Roche as he addressed the crowd which included several close relatives and surviving spouses of the honored fallen. 

"The Advanced Skills Training Center is an investment this country has made and I have no qualm in pointing out it is an investment in democracy, because the first of those who wish to harm us will feel the brunt of those who are trained here," said Dr. Roche. 

Sergeant Crate, Airman Servais and Captains Argel and Fresques were among the first graduates of the relatively new concept of training called Advanced Skills Training. 

According to 720th STG commander, Col. Marc Strat-ton, the AST concept was born of necessity when the Special Tactics career fields were experiencing severe manning shortages and training deficiencies in 1999. 

"That year our pipeline graduated seven combat controllers. Manning at operational units was at 40 percent. The influx of new personnel was not keeping pace with those retiring or separating. Those entering the pipeline had an eight percent success rate," said Col. Stratton. "In short, the career fields were in a death spiral." 

Leadership in the Special Tactics community took immediate action to address the manpower shortage and brought their suggested changes to the Air Force. Senior Air Force leaders, especially Dr. Roche, agreed and made Special Tactics a high priority. 

According to Col. Stratton, the new year-long finishing school initially faced obstinate organizational resistance. Critics were silenced when AST graduates were thrust immediately into combat following the Sept. 11 attacks and battlefield commanders praised their performance. 

The results were also felt in other ways. Manning at operational units began to climb and lessons learned from combat were immediately incorporated into training plans without being scrutinized in months of meetings and staff coordination, said Col. Stratton. 

The Crate Advanced Skills Training Center is expected to continue to improve the process of filling the ranks of Special Tactics squadrons with superbly trained Battlefield Airmen. 

Cadre and mentors expect to broaden the minds of young Special Tactics operators in the Fresques Auditorium and push the limits of their physical endurance as they run on Servais Way and train in the Argel Aquatics Center.