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That others may live

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Ty Foster
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs
When one of your own falls to enemy fire, it hits everyone in the family like a gut check. Make no mistake, the special tactics Airmen of Air Force Special Operations Command are family.

Most of the time, these quiet professionals spend their days readying for war - honing their bodies and minds for their next deployment. But when one of their brothers is wounded or killed in action, they rally en masse to serve their fallen brother's family and render honor to their dead. That's what happened last week when the special operations community lost one of their own.

Senior Airman Daniel Sanchez, 23, was a combat controller in the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron family. In July, he arrived in Afghanistan's Uruzgan Province for his first deployment. He served as a joint terminal attack controller assigned to a U.S. Army special forces team.

He loved his job. He was good at it -- calling in close-air support for the team and their Afghanistan National Army partner forces, he leveraged air assets to provide early warning, protect friendly forces and prevent enemy ambush. In five short weeks of deployment, he'd already been in five combat operations.

On Sept. 16, 2010, his team and their Afghanistan National Army partner forces were providing security for a national election polling site in the vicinity of Kajran District. Shortly after Airman Sanchez' team arrival, they came under fire. An enemy insurgent who had infiltrated the ANA partner force shot and killed the 23-year-old combat controller. An ANA soldier subsequently shot and killed the enemy fighter.

When news of Danny's death reached the men of the mighty two-three, their focus, their mission, was taking care of family.

They marshaled their forces to travel to Danny's hometown of El Paso, Texas, to attend to Danny's grieving family and bury their brother in arms. Simultaneously, they planned a reverent memorial service to honor Danny's service and uplift his memory.

More than 500 Airmen packed into Freedom Hangar at Hurlburt Field, Fla., for the memorial service Sept. 28.

A pair of combat boots stood empty in front of an inverted M-4 rifle topped with a Kevlar helmet. The monument was flanked on the stage by shadow boxes adorned with memorabilia. Overlooking these silent inanimate tributes, an immense U.S. flag stood vigil looking out over a sea of blue uniforms and red berets.

Danny Sanchez joined his brothers who had given their last full measure in service to our nation: Captains Derek Argel and Jeremy Fresques, Staff Sgts. Casey Crate and Tim Davis, and Senior Airman Adam Servais.

During the ceremony, Airman Sanchez was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, the Purple Heart Medal, the Air Force Combat Action Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon with gold border.

It was not easy, but one by one, red beret wearing men took the stage to face a teary-eyed audience to offer testimony and tribute.

"Every time, Special Tactics has wrapped our arms around the family of our fallen brother and given them the support they needed to endure this hardship," said Maj. Chris Larkin, 23rd STS commander. "Each time the mighty warriors in the two-three have come together with incredible poise and strength.

"I think that strength emanates from the tight knit family of Special Tactics and AFSOC and it has enabled the family and our unit to endure these losses and emerge stronger and more capable. I know that today is no different."

The major continued, emotionally moved by the outpouring of support, encouraging everyone with his reverent words.

"Daniel is physically gone, but, because he was a warrior and a combat controller, his memory will never be lost," he said. "Let us remember Daniel and cherish the memories we share for having had the opportunity to know, work with and befriend a guy like Danny.
His ever-present smile, his positive attitude and the influence he had on those around him are the things that I will remember."

Staff Sgt. Dale Young, a combat controller with the 23rd STS, read a letter from Lt. Col. Parks Hughes, Danny's deployed commander at the 21st Expeditionary Special Tactics Squadron.

"Danny was just 14 years old on 9/11, but he knew the history of Special Tactics in this war, and he aspired, as we all do, to live up to the legacy established by those who have gone before us," Colonel Hughes said.

He recognized the priority role combat controllers fulfill in the responsible employment of airpower.

"That's no small load to bear, and we ask young men like Danny Sanchez to carry that load every day," he said. "As a 23-year-old Airman on his first deployment, Danny did so flawlessly."

From Colonel Hughes perspective, Danny was much more than an Airman and a special operator.

"He was a warrior-servant of the finest tradition. By volunteering for the combat control career field, Danny knew that he was volunteering to place himself in harm's way in service to the nation. He did so willingly, and he did not ask for anything in return.

"He was driven to confront the enemies of our nation face-to-face in the dark of night in far-away places around the world. He was compelled to brave great danger in order to free the oppressed and to ensure that the citizens of our great country do not live in fear of an attack on our soil.

"Danny Sanchez was a warrior-servant who paid the ultimate price while ensuring that millions of Americans, most of whom will never know the sacrifice he made, can sleep safely in their beds at night and enjoy the freedoms that they too often take for granted."

The colonel posed a simple question in his letter, "Where do we find men such as this?"
Only in America.

Note: One day after Airman Sanchez' memorial service, Air Force Special Operations Command lost another young warrior to enemy fire. A 21st Special Tactics Squadron combat controller, Senior Airman Mark Forester was killed in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan, Sept.29.