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Helo Crash Hits Marine Unit 'Like Beirut,' Officer Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2005 – A spokesman for the Hawaii-based Marine unit that lost 26 Marines and one sailor from the Jan. 26 helicopter crash that killed 31 troops in Iraq says the incident has impacted Marines like the 1983 Beirut bombing.

"It was a tragic helicopter crash," noted Marine Lt. Col. Owen Lovejoy, the executive officer of 1st Marine Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, deployed in Iraq. The Marine CH-53E Super Stallion transport helicopter crashed near Rutbah, in Anbar province, Iraq.

"I think this has probably been the single biggest loss of life in any one day since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom," noted Lovejoy, speaking outside near the Iwo Jima Pacific War Memorial located near the unit's Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, headquarters. Lovejoy said there are about 3,500 Marines in the 3rd Regiment.

During World War II more than 100,000 U.S. Marines assaulted Japanese troops defending a strategic Pacific island called Iwo Jima. The Marines lost 6,891 killed and 18,700 wounded during fighting that spanned Feb. 19 to March 17, 1945. Only 212 of the nearly 22,000 Japanese defenders survived the battle.

Despite the crash, the cause of which is being investigated, Lovejoy reported that the battalion's Marines in Iraq remain busy doing their jobs two days before the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections. Lovejoy said they are conducting counterinsurgency operations to ensure those elections are conducted as planned.

"Although they did lose 27 of their comrades, they have to keep going," he observed.

The families of the fallen sailor and Marines who lost their lives in the crash were notified, Lovejoy said.

The impact of losing so many Marines from one unit in one day is "huge," Lovejoy emphasized. Due to recent legislation the Marine Corps is slated to add 3,000 new troops to reach 178,000 service members, but it remains the smallest of the armed forces, excepting the Coast Guard.

He noted that the last time so many Marines were lost was the Beirut, Lebanon, bombing in 1983." On Oct. 23, 1983, 241 U.S. Marines were killed when a explosives-laden truck driven by terrorists crashed through a checkpoint and into the Marine Barracks in Beirut.

Reports have said the Marine helicopter was flying in bad weather. That circumstance, Lovejoy said, is often a fact of life in the military.

"We try to do things as safely as possible, but sometimes people actually have to go from one place to another," he observed, noting, "Our pilots are trained to fly" in low-visibility conditions.

All of the deceased Marines were veterans of the successful Battle of Fallujah in November 2004, Lovejoy noted, making their demise "particularly sad."

The Pentagon has so far released the names of 27 Marines and the sailor killed in the crash. They are:

Aircrew -- Capt. Paul C. Alaniz, 32, of Corpus Christi, Texas; Capt. Lyle L. Gordon, 30, of Midlothian, Texas; and Staff Sgt. Dexter S. Kimble, 30, of Houston. All are members of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.; and Lance Cpl. Tony L. Hernandez, 22, of Canyon Lake, Texas.

Marines - 1st Lt. Travis J. Fuller, 26, of Granville, Mass.; 1st Lt. Dustin M. Shumney, 30, of Vallejo, Calif.; Staff Sgt. Brian D. Bland, 26, of Weston, Wyo.; Sgt. Michael W. Finke Jr., 28, of Huron, Ohio; Cpl. Timothy M. Gibson, 23, of Hillsborough, N.H.; Cpl. Richard A. Gilbert Jr., 26, of Montgomery, Ohio; Cpl. Kyle J. Grimes, 21, of Northhampton, Pa.; Cpl. Nathaniel K. Moore, 22, of Champaign, Ill.; Cpl. Nathan A. Schubert, 22, of Cherokee, Iowa; Cpl. Matthew R. Smith, 24, of West Valley, Utah; Cpl. James L. Moore, 24, of Roseburg, Ore.; Cpl. Sean P. Kelly, 23, of Gloucester, N.J.; Lance Cpl. Gael Saintvil, 24, of Orange, Fla.; Lance Cpl. Michael L. Starr Jr., 21, of Baltimore; Lance Cpl. Joseph B. Spence, 24, of Scotts Valley, Calif.; Lance Cpl. Darrell J. Schumann, 25, of Hampton, Va.; Lance Cpl. Hector Ramos, 20, of Aurora, Ill.; Lance Cpl. Rhonald D. Rairdan, 20, of San Antonio; Lance Cpl. Mourad Ragimov, 20, of San Diego; Lance Cpl. Saeed Jafarkhani-Torshizi Jr., 24, of Fort Worth, Texas; Lance Cpl. Brian C. Hopper, 21, of Wynne, Ark.; Lance Cpl. Jonathan E. Etterling, 22, of Wheelersburg, Ohio. All are assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

Sailor Petty Officer 3rd Class John D. House, 28, of Ventura, Calif. He was assigned to Naval Medical Clinic Hawaii, Marine Corps Units Detachment, Pearl Harbor.

Names of other deceased service members are being withheld pending notification of family.

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