Military News

Thursday, April 02, 2015

3rd ASOS Airmen remember their fallen with a 24-hour run

by Air Force Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera
JBER Public Affairs

4/2/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Each year, members of the 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron's Tactical Control Party organize and participate in a 24-hour run challenge to honor the 10 fallen TACP family who were killed in combat and training operations in the last 20 years.

The 24-hour run challenge is a worldwide competition to see how many miles the TACPs can run, but to some, it is more than just a run. It is to ensure those who made the ultimate sacrifice are never forgotten.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Lombard, chief joint terminal air control instructor with the 3rd ASOS, knew Air Force Maj. Walter David Gray and Senior Airman Bradley Smith, both of whom died in combat.

"I knew Major Gray when I was deployed with him in Afghanistan," Lombard said. "I talked to him pretty much every day when I was there and he told me stories about his near-death experiences.

"I was just sitting there looking at him, thinking he was crazy. He died twice; one was from drowning and the other was from an intravenous line infection, but he was still there fighting."

Within a month of meeting Gray, Lombard heard the news of his death. Remembering their conversations about their families, Lombard was in disbelief.

"I was looking forward to how he would affect the career field," Lombard said.  "So when I heard about his death, it blew me away, because I knew he was doing great things for the community. It was hard to take; I can still see his face so fresh in my mind."

Gray, an air liaison officer assigned to the 13th Air Support Operations Squadron, was killed by an insurgent in Kunar province, Afghanistan. He was hit by the second of two suicide bombs after he and his team rushed to the scene after the first blast.

Brushing shoulders with mortality, however, was not something Lombard was unfamiliar with; he lost one of his Airmen nearly five years ago in Afghanistan. During a patrol, Senior Airman Bradley Smith and his team entered a village in the Kandahar province and came under fire. After calling in close air support, Smith volunteered to assist an Army medic in retrieving a body when an improvised explosive device exploded, killing them both instantly.

"I was one of [Smith's] trainers and trained him in the field when he was a brand new Airman," Lombard said. "I knew that he [would] be a good JTAC someday - motivated, very proactive and always having a positive attitude."

Lombard said he will never forget Smith's ability to find innovative solutions, which he saw in action when they were stationed with the 14th ASOS at Pope Field, North Carolina.

"The delta flight wanted to have a deck, but was trying to figure out how much it would cost them out-of-pocket to have a deck," the Cottonwood, California native said. "Smith took it upon himself and found a way; within weeks, there was a truck pulling in at the 14th ASOS full of lumber."

"Because of him, the deck is the nicest thing the 14th ASOS had in a long time." Lombard said smiling. "He was there, willing to help others, and did it for the whole squadron."

Lombard also remembers how, during the last month they were stationed together, Smith would constantly talk about how excited he was excited to move to Colorado to be with his wife again and how he was on his way to becoming a JTAC.

The next time Lombard saw Smith was at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.

"I went to his funeral and as soon as I saw his grave, it finally hit me," Lombard said. "I broke down crying."

Knowing two of the fallen TACPs, Lombard said the 24-hour run challenge means a lot to him because he wants to raise awareness about what they do.

"Combat career fields are not well-known in the Air Force, so it is good to bring attention to everybody," Lombard said. "I want to raise awareness that is outside my career field and to the local community of what TACPs have done for the military and for the nation fighting for our freedom - these guys put their lives in harm's way every day."

Seeing personally how the TACP community comes together to honor the fallen, Senior Airman Jacob Gavulic, a TACP assigned to the 3rd ASOS, gets the opportunity to remember his brother, Master Sgt. Joshua Gavulic, who was killed in a parachute training incident on Feb. 21, 2014 in Eloy, Arizona.

The death of his brother has been hard for Jacob and his family, but they relied on the TACP community.

"We talk about how big our extended family [TACP community] and that came into play when my brother passed," Jacob said. "It showed us the full spectrum of what it means to be part of the TACP family when they stepped in and helped us."

Trying to keep his composure, Jacob said it is nice to know he is not alone.

"We are a small community, everybody knows somebody who also felt a loss, too," Jacob said. "This run is not just about a run, but it is a run to remember their legacy, and we are going to talk about each and every person who has been affected by those killed in action or in training like my brother."

While it's been more than a year since his brother passed, the memorial run means Jacob and his family see first-hand how his brother is remembered.

"My brother was always very big on tradition and paying respect to those who gave everything they had," Jacob said. "I know that he would feel privileged and honored and this is the way he wanted to be remembered - even though he is gone, he is not forgotten."

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