Fairchild Air Force Base has made headlines so frequently in the battle for a second casino on the West Plains, and the competition to land the new generation of refueling tankers, that we sometimes forget its mission.
On Friday, we were reminded that the base is more than a regional economic powerhouse when news spread that a KC-135 air-refueling tanker had exploded over Kyrgyzstan, killing three airmen. It has been 14 years since Fairchild lost a tanker crew.
Base officials have announced that a public memorial service is being planned for Tech Sgt. Herman “Tre” Mackey III, 30, of Bakersfield, Calif.; Capt. Victoria A. Pinckney, 27, of Spokane; and Capt. Mark Tyler Voss, 27, of Boerne, Texas. While relatively few people in the region knew these crewmembers, we should all remember and honor their sacrifice.
Mackey is survived by a wife and 2-year-old daughter, along with three sisters, two brothers and his mother. Pinckney leaves behind her husband, a 7-month-old son, two sisters and her parents. Voss is survived by his parents and a brother and sister. Pinckney and Voss were graduates of the U.S. Air Force Academy. The three young airmen had excelled during their too-brief military careers.
The terrible news of this crash reminds us that while combat in Afghanistan winds down, the ongoing war remains all too lethal. The 92nd Air Refueling Wing performs a critical function in the delivery of cargo to troops on the ground and fuel to combat jets in the air.
The wing’s base of operation is Manas, Kyrgyzstan, where the Air Force established a military base (or “transit center,” as it’s officially called) three months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The tanker that crashed Friday had taken off from Manas, north of Afghanistan.
In a 2010 Spokesman-Review article, an Air Force commander said tanker crews there were saving American lives every day.
“We may not drop the bomb or shoot the bullet that kills the bad guy,” Col. Dwight Sones said, “but you can trace the string back” to the work done at Manas.
Base personnel are also involved in humanitarian missions for the poverty-stricken village near the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek. A school has been restored, and blankets, coats and toys have been delivered to local residents. It’s typical for tanker crews to volunteer in the community. Airmen are everywhere in Spokane: cleaning up garbage at Palisades Park, gleaning fruit in Green Bluff, building homes for Habitat for Humanity.
Fairchild’s decision to hold public memorial services for the three lost airmen reflects the close connection the base has to our region. We should use this time to reflect on the sacrifice of these brave airmen, and to hold their family members in our thoughts and prayers.
As Spokane Mayor David Condon said, “Spokane stands ready to support our Fairchild family.”
We mourn their loss as a community.