Fort Riley honors 5 soldiers killed in helicopter crash

By Kristina Jackson

Although soldiers all encounter loss during their years of service, it does not lessen the sting of saying goodbye to a fallen comrade.

Lt. Col. Matthew Weinshel, a commander of the task force that lost five soldiers from Fort Riley’s Combat Aviation Brigade in a Black Hawk helicopter crash on Dec. 17, said the loss was very personal for him.

Weinshel, who has served in the Army for 19 years and knew all five soldiers, said it was a loss for the nation and for the Army, as well as for him.

“This is not the first time I’ve lost comrades, and I remember each of them vividly,” Weinshel said. “Each has a personal connection to me.”

Weinshel was one of several hundred soldiers who paid tribute to the five soldiers in a memorial ceremony at Fort Riley’s Morris Hill Chapel on Thursday.

Along with Weinshel’s tribute to the crew, friends and fellow soldiers paid individual tributes to each of the soldiers.

In his remarks on Chief Warrant Officer 2 Randy Billings, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Frank Kirby praised Billings as a leader, mentor and friend, and said Billings took him under his wing when Kirby joined his company.

“He taught me a lot about the aircraft subsystems and what I needed to be — both a warrant officer and a pilot,” Kirby said. “Working closely with Randy, I quickly learned he was someone I could count on.”

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Alison Rusine said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Silverman will be remembered most for his positive attitude. Silverman worked for years to become a pilot-in-command, an accomplishment he achieved on Dec. 14, just three days before the crash—after often watching other, younger pilots get flight time instead of him.

“Whether it was stocking the fridge, organizing publications or even just doing a police call, no task was too small or too large for Josh to take on,” Rusine said.

Sgt. Peter Bohler was always willing to make sacrifices for his fellow soldiers, according to Chief Warrant Officer Shawn Ferris, who said Bohler would take on extra responsibilities if another soldier needed time off.

“He made sure juniors knew their jobs by thoroughly teaching soldiers how to be a great soldier and crew chief,” Ferris said.

Capt. Erin Fox said Sgt. 1st Class Omar Forde was the cornerstone of his unit and offered a calm, steady presence.

“The entire shop was seemingly built around him,” Fox said. “He was a mentor to the juniors, a friend to his peers and a pillar of strength to all he worked for and with.”

Spc. Rosario Paredes said Spc. Terry Gordon always knew how to bring a smile to everyone’s face, no matter what the situation.

“You always had a special way to lift our hearts,” Paredes said.

In his remarks during the service, Weinshel said the group of men defined the term “crew.”

“They trusted each other and worked very well together,” Weinshel said. “They formed an extremely cohesive team.”

He said each of the men loved his job and took it very seriously, working hard to prepare and repair aircraft every day.

“Each of these soldiers knew full well the risks they assumed, but they loved their mission and each other,” he said. “They truly loved flying and told me so on several occasions.”

Collectively, the five men had more than 34 years of military experience, and Weinshel said the soldiers’ hard work and positive attitude will be missed, and thanked the soldiers’ families for contributing to it.

“Thank you for providing them to us for only a short time, where we had the opportunity to know and enjoy them,” he said.

The rest of the soldiers from the men’s unit will return in phases beginning in April and May, and Weinshel said they were flying again two days after the crash.

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