Soldiers fuel a Black Hawk helicopter on Kandahar Airfield. Less than two months into its latest deployment to Afghanistan, the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade lost six soldiers in six days in helicopter crashes in Kandahar. (Army)
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Less than two months into its latest deployment to Afghanistan, the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade lost six soldiers in six days, a devastating toll that has stunned the unit and its home base of Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia.
Five soldiers were killed March 11 when their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a night training mission. Another soldier, Chief Warrant Officer 3 James E. Groves III, was killed March 16 when his OH-58 Kiowa Warrior crashed; his co-pilot was severely wounded. Both incidents happened in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, according to the Defense Department.
Investigations into the crashes are ongoing, but initial reports from the International Security Assistance Force indicate there was no enemy fire in the area during either crash, said Kevin Larson, a spokesman for Fort Stewart.
The deployed soldiers in the CAB, which belongs to the 3rd Infantry Division, remain dedicated to their mission, brigade commander Col. Allan Pepin wrote on the unit’s Facebook page.
“We continue to hold our fallen heroes and their loved ones in our thoughts and prayers,” he wrote. “Each of our fallen died as they lived: brave and gallant, dedicated to family, duty and country.”
Groves, 37, of Kettering, Ohio, who was killed in the Kiowa Warrior crash, was assigned to the brigade’s 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment. He joined the Army in August 1994 and was on his fourth deployment.
The five soldiers killed in the March 11 Black Hawk crash are:
Staff Sgt. Steven P. Blass, 27, of Estherville, Iowa. Blass was assigned to the brigade’s 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment. A Black Hawk crew chief, Blass joined the Army in March 2006. He was on his second deployment.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan J. Henderson, 27, of Franklin, La. Henderson, a pilot, was assigned to 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment. He joined the Army in May 2007 and was on his second deployment.
Capt. Sara M. Knutson, 27, of Eldersburg, Md. She was assigned to the brigade’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company. Knutson was an operations officer who joined the Army in May 2007. She was on her first deployment.
Staff Sgt. Marc A. Scialdo, 31, of Naples, Fla. A Black Hawk section chief, he was assigned to the 603rd Aviation Support Battalion. Scialdo joined the Army in January 2003 and was on his second tour.
Spc. Zachary L. Shannon, 21, of Dunedin, Fla.
Shannon was assigned to 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment. A Black Hawk crew chief, Shannon joined the Army in August 2010. He was on his first deployment.
“We mourn the loss of our five Falcon heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Pepin wrote on Facebook. “We are all affected by this tragic event, but we stand together, resilient, to continue the mission and honor their lives.”
The brigade’s 2,500 soldiers, who deployed in February, are scheduled to come home in October, Larson said.
The six fallen soldiers from the CAB and two other soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division will be honored April 18 during a tree dedication ceremony at Warriors Walk, Larson said.
Staff Sgt. Rex L. Schad, 26, of Edmond, Okla., was one of two soldiers killed March 11 in what Afghan officials said was a machine-gun attack by one of their own policemen.
Another Fort Stewart soldier, Spc. David T. Proctor, 26, of Greensboro, N.C., died March 13 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center from non-combat injuries he suffered in Afghanistan 10 days earlier.
Warriors Walk is the 3rd Infantry Division’s living memorial for its fallen soldiers. An Eastern redbud tree will be planted for each soldier; to date, 445 trees have been planted on the Warriors Walk.
“It’s always difficult to lose soldiers,” Larson said. “We are saddened by this loss, and we’re going to honor their memories.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.