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Fallen Airman honored in America and Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Rachel Arroyo
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs
Exactly one year after his death in Afghanistan, members of Air Force Special Operations Command USAF Special Operations School gathered Feb. 25 to dedicate a place of learning to a beloved teacher.

Lt. Col. John Darin Loftis was shot and killed by an Afghan while sitting at his desk on Feb. 25, 2012 in the Interior Ministry in Kabul. Family, friends and colleagues gathered to dedicate the Loftis Auditorium at USAFSOS.

Approximately 7,700 miles from the Loftis Auditorium is another building in Qalat, Afghanistan also standing in his memory - a radio station he was instrumental in developing.

The Qalat Radio Station in Zabul province was dedicated to Loftis on completion Jan. 17. It is the first radio station in Zabul in an Afghan government facility controlled by local nationals.

Loftis, a regional affairs strategist fluent in Pashto, an Afghan language, sought to bridge gaps between cultures. On opposite ends of the globe, the memorials offer a measure of proof of his success.

Col. William "Bill" Andersen, former commandant of USAFSOS, spoke at the event about a man who approached each task with humility, quiet pride and dignity.

"Darin lived a lifetime of service to his fellow men," Andersen said. "I know that with complete certainty for he demonstrated it through the totality of his actions throughout his life independent of what method of service he gave. The military was just his most recent and longest lasting."

Bismullah Lodin, director of the Qalat Radio Station and friend to Loftis, said he remembers his work ethic, honesty and kindness. Loftis worked side-by-side with Lodin, helping him build the station, hire staff and obtain equipment.

"I remember one day, someone called me on the phone and said he wanted to talk to Bismullah. I answered the phone and it was Loftis," Lodin said. "He said, Bismullah, great news, I got you four computers for the radio station. We had been working so hard and could not believe he was able to get the computers for us."

Loftis, of Murray, Ky., volunteered for his deployment on a provincial reconstruction team in Zabul for nine months.

Provincial reconstruction teams combine U.S. servicemembers and civilian counterparts with the mission of capacity building in Afghanistan, or helping Afghans find solutions to problems pertaining to poverty, education or social injustice.

"In Afghanistan there are a lot of terrible circumstances, and people have lived with conflict for decades," said Susan Alaniz, chief of the USAFSOS theater engagement division. "He believed those people needed to be treated with dignity."

Loftis had the opportunity to do this on the PRT.

Later, he was picked by the office of then Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz to join AfPak Hands, a program establishing persistent engagement on Afghanistan and Pakistan through use of a cadre of military and civilian cultural experts.

He worked with the International Security Assistance Force at the Interior Ministry as the chief plans advisor, interfacing directly with prominent Afghan National Police officials.

Peace Corps to PRT

Aside from Pashto, Loftis had skills in Dari, Farsi, Arabic and Catalan.

His degree from Vanderbilt University was in engineering, but a penchant for languages stuck with him. He lived in the language dormitory freshman year where he met his wife, Holly Loftis, who still resides in Navarre, Fla., with their two daughters, Alison, 14, and Camille, 11.

The two wed after graduation and were off to Papua New Guinea with the Peace Corps two years later.

They lived for two years among Duna tribesmen without running water or electricity, teaching basic health education, English and mathematics in Melanesian Pidgin.

Following the Peace Corps tour, Loftis received his Air Force commission in 1996 through Officer Training School as a space and missile officer.

"A lot of times people might think the Peace Corps and the military don't go together, but Darin always said he didn't see any kind of dichotomy there because they have the same ultimate goal which is peace," Holly said.

His engineering background made him a good space and missile officer, but his language skills steered him toward a career in the regional affairs strategist program.

He attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. to learn Pashto where he drew a name out of a bag that truly did describe him. It was "Esan," meaning "the quality of being generous."

Loftis, who had three masters degrees, was assigned to USAFSOS where he instructed on Southeast Asia teaching on cultural sensitivity and basics of Islam prior to deploying.

Making his mark

Retired Army Col. Jim Green said there was never a stranger on ISAF headquarters because of Loftis.

"...Anytime he saw somebody who looked out of place or simply looked lonely, he would approach them and engage them in meaningful conversation, not just a bumper sticker conversation but something meaningful," Green said. "He would leave that conversation with a new friend and some additional knowledge, and he left that person feeling like they mattered."

Loftis's brother-in-law Dr. Brian Brewer, assistant professor of Christian theology at Baylor University, said finding understanding between disparate groups was a calling for Loftis.

"Darin taught us the lesson from the preacher of Hebrews [the Book of Hebrews] - that for us we need to go on loving each other as brothers, sisters, here and everywhere, and to especially not forget to entertain the stranger for, by doing so, we may be entertaining angels unaware."

Today, the new Qalat Radio Station, manned by Lodin and his team, stands largely in thanks to Loftis.

Given the chance to meet Loftis's family, Lodin would say:

He worked in our country and we could tell he loved what he did. He worked for everyone. He was very honest. Every time he was working for the benefit of the public. He lost his life for Afghan people, for Afghan Muslim people, for all peoples. We are so proud of him. He was a good guy and working for the benefit of Afghanistan. He was here, and he made an effort to solve Afghanistan problems...He worked to erase corruption. Everyone loved him here. There was no one like Loftis. We work with so many different colonels but there was no one like him. We are praying for him, we will always remember him.

While Loftis's work was a calling, so was being a husband to Holly and a father to Alison and Camille.

"He was a great dad and loved our girls so much," Holly said. "He would take them on daddy-daughter dates so he could spend individual time with them."

As Holly was given a portrait of her husband, she thanked attendees for honoring his memory.

"Shortly after Darin was killed, I found this quote and it said 'a man goes to war not because he hates what is in front of him but because he loves what is behind him'," she said. "Thank you for being behind him."

Loftis wrote an article on courage as a facet of integrity while stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Cheyenne, Wy. An excerpt reads:

We do not cultivate courage when nobody is watching, but, rather, precisely when others are watching.

Brewer spoke for the auditorium packed with family and friends, for Lodin and the Qalat Radio Station team, for his PRT and AfPak Hands colleagues, and for Air Commandos when he said:

"Well, Darin, we were watching."

Editor's note: Staff Sgt. Patrice Clarke, Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team, contributed to this report.