HAVELOCK — For the second time in 28 months, a joint exercise between an elite group of Marines and reservists ends in tragedy.
A Marine KC-130 transport aircraft crashed in LeFlore County, Miss., Monday afternoon with 16 service members missing and presumed deceased. The aircraft was transporting six Marines and one Navy sailor from Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command and their associated equipment for routine small unit pre-deployment training at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz.
All seven were from the Camp Lejeune-based 2d Marine Raider Battalion, according to a press release from the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command. The aircraft was from Marine Aerial Refueling and Transport Squadron (VMGR) 452, Marine Air Group-49, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve. The flight originated from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., as the squadron was supporting a requirement to transport personnel and equipment from there to Naval Air Field El Centro, Calif.
News of the tragedy spread rapidly through eastern North Carolina.
Craven County Schools has a plan in place to deal with such an event with its students who are military dependents. Leilani Camden, the vice-principal of Havelock High, a secondary school with 1,100 students whose campus lies in the flight path of the sprawling air base, said the school district has a military liaison who does community reach when tragedies arise.
“We will do what all is necessary and will bend over backward to do it,” Camden said when she learned of the news Tuesday morning. “We have a large student body whose parents serve in the military."
Town officials and civic organization executives expressed sorrow and remorse as details emerged on the crash. Bruce Fortin, executive director of the Havelock Chamber of Commerce said, “The Havelock Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee sends our deepest condolences to the families of the Marines who lost their lives in service to our nation. This shocking event is a reminder of how dangerous the missions that our service members take on every day, in protecting our great nation. Our community understands this sacrifice more than anyone and that is what makes it so exceptional.”
Havelock town officials were equally sorrowful.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends, and Marines of the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing during this difficult time,” said Lauren M. Wargo, special projects communication director for the City of Havelock.
The airspace above Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point was bright with the sunshine Tuesday morning as departing aircraft climbed into the blue sky. A marked contrast to the somber mood that began to envelop Havelock as news spread about a tragedy more than 900 miles away brought home the risks and dangers inherit to those who serve in the military.
At Riverside Ford near the front gate to MCAS Cherry Point, General Sales Manager Lee Midgett held back tears as news of the crash spread through the dealership.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to our friends and neighbors who been affected by this tragedy. We owe a large debt of gratitude to all that serve but especially to those who just experienced a loss,” Midgett said.
This isn’t the first time area residents awoke to breaking news affecting the lives of neighbors and friends who wear this country’s uniform.
It was a little more than two years ago when 11 servicemen, including seven MARSOC members perished during a training exercise over the Gulf of Mexico near Eglin, Fla., when a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter went down killing all on board.
The identities of the service members whose lives were lost in Monday’s tragic incident are being withheld to allow time for notification of their next of kin. While the details of the crash are under investigation, MARSOC is providing all available resources and support to the family, friends and teammates of these Raiders as we all mourn this tragic loss of life.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire MARSOC family at this time," said the MARSOC chief of staff. "The incredible demands of this dangerous and demanding calling forge some of the tightest unit and family bonds found in the U.S. military. This loss impacts us all."
Detailed information on the MARSOC personnel involved will be made available pending notification of next of kin.
As the business of protecting America’s freedom continued around Havelock and Camp Lejeune Tuesday afternoon, planes continued to depart from Cherry Point flying over the high school, town hall and Riverside Ford.
“It’s an airshow every day, and we love it,” Midgett said.
Daily News Reporter Mike McHugh can be reached at 910-219-8455 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.