By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterFebruary 27, 2014
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (February 27, 2014) -- Flying as the trail aircraft on a reconnaissance mission in 2007 in Iraq, two Army Aviators led their team out of an apparent ambush as they came under a hailstorm of machine-gun fire.
Although the two Soldiers lost their lives on that day, their legacy will live on forever as their names adorn a new AH-64 maintenance hangar on Hanchey Army Heliport.
CW4 Keith Yoakum and CW2 Jason Defrenn were honored at a ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony to open the new Yoakum-Defrenn Hangar at Hanchey on Fort Rucker Feb. 20.
"It is a distinct honor and privilege … to pay tribute to two Army Aviation heroes," said Maj. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, during the ceremony. "Today, we officially open our newest hangar -- one that we're very proud of -- but more importantly, we dedicate this state-of-the-art facility to two great Army Aviators who spent their last full measure of devotion in service to our nation."
During the encounter, Yoakum and Defrenn successfully led their team clear of the immediate threat, but assessed that the anti-aircraft positions at the ambush site were too dangerous to be left, and made the decision to engage the enemy, despite their damaged aircraft.
"Totally selfless, they answered the call, a call that so many are unwilling to answer -- to serve a cause greater than self and to truly, truly make a difference in our world," said Mangum. "They willingly and ably put themselves in harm's way to do what needed to be done -- the right thing, the right way.
"Tragically, these two heroes made the ultimate sacrifice that morning, attempting to help ensure the safety of their fellow Aviators who would continue to fly and defend freedom," he said. "While we dedicate this hangar to a crew, a team, it's important that we appreciate and celebrate the lives and careers of these two selfless servants."
Although both men had decorated careers, Family members agreed that Yoakum and Defrenn would have been embarrassed by the attention.
"I'm quite sure that Keith would have a big grin on his face, but he would also be quite embarrassed because he wouldn't think that his name should be on a hangar," said Kelly Yoakum, wife of Keith.
For the Family, it was more about the legacy the Soldiers were able to leave for their children.
"This is just a real honor for my boys, (Andrew and Michael)," said Jennifer Defrenn, wife of Jason. "Jason would have really loved this and my boys were excited."
For Kelly, she said it was enough for her children to know that their dad would be remembered by so many and that his spirit will live on.
"My children learned their work ethics from their father, and they also learned that if they have a passion for something, that's what they should be doing," she said. "Keith enjoyed every minute of his Army career, so I think they took a lot from that.
"For the 18 years I was married to him, he spent 16 of those 18 years at a hangar," she said. "When he wasn't flying, he would be in the hangar mentoring and doing his job, and he just loved turning wrenches -- that's just what he did. Of any building that you could come up with to put his name on, this is the most befitting."
Yoakum enlisted in the Army in 1986 and completed Initial Entry Rotary Wing Aeroscout Course at Fort Rucker in 1992. From there he went on to complete the AH-1 Aircraft Qualification Course and the AH-64A Aircraft Qualification Course. In 1996 he completed the AH-64A Maintenance Test Pilot Course and served as a maintenance test pilot for the Security Assistance Training Team in Cairo, Egypt; the 6th Squadron, 6th U.S. Cavalry at Illsheim, Germany; and the 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment, Aviation Training Brigade at Fort Rucker.
Yoakum's career as an Apache pilot stretched far and wide, performing not only as a maintenance technician, but also as an armament technician, test pilot, instructor pilot, instrument-flight examiner and standardization instructor pilot.
In 2005, Yoakum was selected to be a pilot for the U.S. Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights, but turned down the opportunity to return to the Apache and deploy to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He earned a myriad of awards and decorations throughout his career, including the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the Army Commendation Medal with five Oak Leaf Clusters.
Defrenn also had a diverse career, joining the Army in 1998 and serving as an infantryman in his first assignment. He attended Warrant Officer Candidate School in 2001 and graduated from Warrant Officer Basic Course to earn his wings in 2002.
Shortly after, he attended the AH-64A Apache Combat Aviator Qualification Course as well as the maintenance managers course and the Aviation Life Support Course at Fort Rucker.
Defrenn's first assignment was with the 1st Infantry Division in Germany where he served as an AH-64A pilot for the unit. Upon his return to Fort Rucker after his first combat tour, he attended the AH-64D Longbow Supplemental Course and the maintenance test pilot course.
Defrenn's military decorations include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Air Medal and more.