As airmen in Kyrgyzstan paid their final respects to three fallen Fairchild aviators Thursday, the remains of those personnel killed in a KC-135 tanker crash are on their way back to the United States.
The bodies of Captains Mark "Tyler" Voss and Victoria "Tori" Pinckney along with Tech Sergeant Herman "Tre" Mackey will be returning to the United States, touching down at Dover Air Force Base. All three are likely aboard a C-17 heading for Dover, although right now only the family of Captain Pinckney has agreed to allow the media to witness her arrival and dignified transfer.
Volunteer airmen practice twice a week for their duty as carriers and will move Pinckney from her aircraft to a military hearse that will take her on to the Dover mortuary.
If any of the aircrew's family wishes to attend the transfer they can overnight at a special residence called the Fisher Home. Tech Sergeant Latersa Frazier at Dover AFB helps grieving loved ones get through the ordeal.
While the three fallen airmen are returning to their respective homes and loved ones back here in the U.S., officials here in Spokane are preparing for a local memorial service to honor the aircrew of "Shell 77."
The arrival of the aircrew back here in the U.S. means Fairchild can start planning where and when to have the event.
Public Facilities District officials confirmed Friday they have offered up INB Performing Arts Center at no charge to the Air Force for that memorial service, the same location where the crew of a Fairchild-based KC-135 crew with the 141st Air Refueling Wing was also memorialized following the crash of their tanker in Geilenkirchen, Germany in 1999.
Spokane Mayor David Condon has also offered up police escorts or honor guard to Fairchild as well as the fire department's ladder trucks so they can suspend a giant American flag along Spokane Falls Boulevard in front of the Performing Arts Center.
In Manas, more than 300 people gathered on Thursday to remember the aircrew in a solemn memorial service.
Three flight suits and a trio of helmets represented the aircrew's presence at the service. Each of them were recalled as expert aviators and proud members of the 22nd Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron.
"Although the loss of Tyler, Tori and Tre may today cause us to grieve, we gain endurance for tomorrow," said Lt. Col. James Mach, 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron commander, during the memorial service. "We gain the ability to rise above, to resist doubt, to persist in the face of fear. We are strengthened by the situation's trials. We move forward in accomplishing our mission. We persevere, above all else, defending our freedoms.
"Tyler, Tori and Tre are our guardians and will forever be our guardians," he continued. "They served with distinction as defenders for our nation. They answered every call selflessly and without reservation. It is through their sacrifice, and those before, we acquire this strength, resistance and persistence to persevere as we move forward in the face of troubles, overcome current and future challenges, continue our mission."