The Virginia Air National Guard's 203rd RED HORSE Squadron conducted a memorial service at the State Military Reservation March 3, 2011, to honor 18 unit members and three Florida Army Guard aviators who perished in a military transport crash 10 years ago
The Virginia Air National Guard's 203rd RED HORSE Squadron conducted a memorial service at the State Military Reservation March 3, 2011, to honor 18 unit members and three Florida Army Guard aviators who perished in a military transport crash 10 years ago. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard)
Virginia ceremony to remember Airmen, Soldiers killed in 2001 plane crash



by Cotton Puryear
Virginia National Guard


3/1/2013 - VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- The Virginia Beach-based 203rd RED HORSE Squadron plans to hold a brief ceremony to lay an honor wreath March 3, 2013, at 3 p.m. at Camp Pendleton in Virginia Beach to honor the 18 unit members and three Florida Army National Guard aviators who were killed in a military transport crash 12 years ago.

The Virginia Guard engineers and three Florida aviators from Detachment I, Company H, 171st Aviation Battalion, were killed on March 3, 2001, as the 203rd members were returning home after completing a two-week military construction project at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The C-23 Sherpa they were flying in crashed in a cotton field near Unadilla, Ga.

The C-23 crash was the worst peacetime aviation disaster in the history of the National Guard, and the worst loss of life in the Virginia National Guard since World War II.

The ceremony is scheduled to take place at the memorial built to the fallen Airmen. The memorial takes the form of a reflection or meditation garden complete with the unit's mascot: a life-size, rearing red horse. The 30,000-square-foot memorial also includes a large bronze Minuteman statue rising up from a clear pool in front of a waterfall, and a second red horse. This horse kneels in front of a memorial made from a 7,000-pound, black granite boulder with the names of the 21 National Guard men etched into its one polished surface.

Encircling the border of the memorial is a winding path embracing 22 Bradford pear trees, and a plaque at the base of each tree honors each one of the Guardsmen. The 22nd tree bears a plaque honoring those who died during the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, which took place four days before the groundbreaking of the 203d's memorial on Sept. 15, 2001.

The memorial incorporates ideas from several 203rd members and used a range of the construction skills found in RED HORSE units. Members of the 203rd, assisted by RED HORSE units from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Washington, Montana and Texas, built most of the memorial.

RED HORSE stands for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, and the unit provides a highly mobile civil engineering response force to support contingency operations worldwide.

203rd RED HORSE Airmen lost in the crash:
  • Master Sgt. James Beninati of Virginia Beach, Va.
  • Staff Sgt. Paul Blancato of Norfolk, Va.
  • Tech. Sgt. Ernest Blawas of Virginia Beach, Va.
  • Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Bridges of Chesapeake, Va.
  • Master Sgt. Eric Bulman of Virginia Beach, Va.
  • Staff Sgt. Paul Cramer of Norfolk, Va.
  • Tech. Sgt. Michael East of Parksley, Va.
  • Staff Sgt. Ronald Elkin of Norfolk, Va.
  • Sgt. James Ferguson of Newport News, Va.
  • Staff Sgt. Randy Johnson of Emporia, Va.
  • Senior Airman Mathew Kidd of Hampton, Va.
  • Master Sgt. Michael Lane of Moyock, Va.
  • Tech. Sgt. Edwin Richardson of Virginia Beach, Va.
  • Tech. Sgt. Dean Shelby of Virginia Beach, Va.
  • Staff Sgt. John Sincavage of Chesapeake, Va.
  • Staff Sgt. Gregory Skurupey of Gloucester, Va.
  • Staff Sgt Richard Summerell of Franklin, Va.
  • Maj. Frederick Watkins of Virginia Beach, Va.
Florida Army Guard Soldiers lost in the crash:
  • CW4 Johnny W. Duce of Orange Park, Fla.
  • CW2 Eric P. Larson of Land-O-Lakes, Fla.
  • SSG Robert F. Ward Jr. of Lakeland, Fla.