• Soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen walk toward a waiting CH-53E Super Stallion after attending a memorial ceremony at the wreckage site of two downed helicopters off the northern coast of Djibouti, May 30, 2011.

    Memorial Day commemoration honors fallen in Djibouti

    Soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen walk toward a waiting CH-53E Super Stallion after attending a memorial ceremony at the wreckage site of two downed helicopters off the northern coast of Djibouti, May 30, 2011.

  • A gunner aboard a CH-53 Super Stallion with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464 watches as another helicopter takes off on the north coast of Djibouti, May 30, 2011.

    Memorial Day commemoration honors fallen in Djibouti

    A gunner aboard a CH-53 Super Stallion with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464 watches as another helicopter takes off on the north coast of Djibouti, May 30, 2011.

  • U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Aaron H. Klaves, assigned to Camp Lemonnier, is deep in thought as he rides in a CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter to the location of the wreckage of two downed military helicopters off the northern coast of Djibouti, May 30,

    Memorial Day commemoration honors fallen in Djibouti

    U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Aaron H. Klaves, assigned to Camp Lemonnier, is deep in thought as he rides in a CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter to the location of the wreckage of two downed military helicopters off the northern coast of Djibouti, May...

  • 110530-F-XM360-197 DJIBOUTI, Africa - (May 30, 2011) 
U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Aaron H. Klaves, assigned to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, offers words of inspiration to Marines, Soldiers, sailors and airmen assembled for a memorial ceremony at the wrec

    Memorial Day commemoration honors fallen in Djibouti

    110530-F-XM360-197 DJIBOUTI, Africa - (May 30, 2011) U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Aaron H. Klaves, assigned to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, offers words of inspiration to Marines, Soldiers, sailors and airmen assembled for a memorial ceremony at the...

  • Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines stand together as U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Aaron H. Klaves, assigned to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, conducts a memorial ceremony at the wreckage site of two downed helicopters off the northern coast of Djibouti,

    Memorial Day commemoration honors fallen in Djibouti

    Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines stand together as U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Aaron H. Klaves, assigned to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, conducts a memorial ceremony at the wreckage site of two downed helicopters off the northern coast of...

  • U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel Rodgers pauses to reflect at the wreckage of two downed military helicopters near the northern coast of Djibouti during a Memorial Day commemoration, May 30, 2011.

    Memorial Day commemoration honors fallen in Djibouti

    U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel Rodgers pauses to reflect at the wreckage of two downed military helicopters near the northern coast of Djibouti during a Memorial Day commemoration, May 30, 2011.

  • U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. B.J. Ponce places flowers on the wreckage of two downed CH-53 helicopters on the top of Gordoria Range plateau near the northern coast of Djibouti, May 30, 2011.

    Memorial Day commemoration honors fallen in Djibouti

    U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. B.J. Ponce places flowers on the wreckage of two downed CH-53 helicopters on the top of Gordoria Range plateau near the northern coast of Djibouti, May 30, 2011.

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti - More than 35 Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) servicemembers climbed aboard two CH-53 Super Stallion Helicopters on May 30, Memorial Day, and traveled to some of Djibouti’s most remote regions to honor CJTF-HOA members who lost their lives in two separate aircraft accidents.

This memorial flight, as it has come to be known, held a considerable level of importance for one of the passengers, U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Aaron Klaves, who led the joint-service members through short devotionals at each location.

“This event is one of significance and weight,” Klaves said, before climbing aboard one of the large helicopters parked on the Camp Lemonnier flight line. “We’re on this mission to pay tribute to men and women who gave their lives in service to their country. What could be more important?”

The group’s first stop was atop a rocky plateau in the Godoria Range along Djibouti’s northern coast. On June 23, 2003, two CH-53 helicopter crews were gathered around their aircraft on this high ground to observe a B-52 Stratofortress on maneuvers when an M117 general purpose bomb exploded, killing U.S. Marine Capt. Seth Michaud and injuring eight others.

The second leg of the mission took the group to a desolate beach on the Gulf of Aden where, on Feb. 17, 2006, two CH-53 helicopters collided in mid-air, killing eight Marines and two airmen, and injuring two others.

At each accident site, CJTF-HOA servicemembers talked quietly among themselves while some looked out in silence over the Red Sea. At the Godoria plateau, others touched the twisted remnants of the helicopters as if to confirm that the events actually occurred.

During the devotionals, Klaves read aloud the names of those who perished and a wreath of flowers was laid near each wreckage site.

“Our job is inherently dangerous,” U.S. Navy Religious Programs Spc. 2nd Class James Decker said. “It’s noble to defend your country and this event presents us with a moment to say ‘thank you.’ What you hope to happen on Memorial Day is for Americans to understand and appreciate the decision her young men and women make to serve their country.”

U.S. Marine Capt. B.P. Sanders, HMH 464 CH-53 pilot and section lead for the memorial flight, had never visited the accident sites before.

“This memorial flight brings with it a constant reminder of those we have lost,” Sanders said. “It was the best mission I’ve flown here so far " a mission of honor and fulfillment. It really shines a light on their sacrifice.”

CJTF-HOA members have participated in annual memorial flights since Memorial Day 2004.

Page last updated Thu June 2nd, 2011 at 00:00