News>Team Kadena mourns loss of downed helicopter crew member
Then U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Mark Smith, 33rd Rescue Squadron flight engineer, is pictured receiving the Air Force Commendation Medal from Brig. Gen. Matt Molloy, then 18th Wing commander, on Kadena Air Base, Japan, June 20, 2012. Smith died when the HH 60G Pave Hawk helicopter in which he was flying went down during a training mission Aug. 5, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Justin Veazie)
Coalition Special Operations Forces pararescue jumpers lower a stretcher during a medical evacuation in Nuristan province, Afghanistan, April 13, 2012. Then U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Mark A. Smith, 33rd Rescue Squadron flight engineer, is pictured here hoisting the PJs down. Afghan National Army Commandos and Coalition SOF, the first to visit that area in more than two years, defeated enemy forces threatening to overrun a village. Smith died when the HH 60G Pave Hawk helicopter in which he was flying went down during a training mission Aug. 5, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Clay Weis)
8/10/2013 - KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Officials confirmed today the death of a technical sergeant assigned to the 33rd Rescue Squadron here following Monday's crash of a helicopter in the Central Training Area, Okinawa.
Tech. Sgt. Mark A. Smith, 33rd RQS flight engineer, died when the HH 60G Pave Hawk helicopter in which he was flying went down during a training mission. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
"Smitty was a total professional and true warrior," said Lt. Col. Pedro Ortiz, 33rd RQS commander. "He led by example and was wise beyond his young age of 30. In combat or out, I am proud to call him my brother."
Smith, originally from Bakersfield, Calif., joined the Air Force on July 5, 2000, after graduating high school.
"He was a quiet guy outside the aircraft, but in the aircraft, a totally different person," Ortiz said. "In the aircraft, he was blunt and told you how it was. I loved that. His ever-present drive was to make you better and to take care of everyone in combat."
During Smith's 13 years of service, he advanced as a structural maintenance specialist before entering flight engineer upgrade training in 2008. Since arriving here in the fall of 2011, Smith deployed twice to Afghanistan with the 33rd RQS, where he participated in numerous missions to save the lives of service members on the ground.
"One that stands out is the rescue of a commando in the Kamdesh," Ortiz said. "They were under fire by rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns. Smitty was rock solid with his hoist despite the imminent and close threats."
During this rescue, a photo was taken by a combat photographer who was nearby in an overwatch position, Ortiz said. The photo has since gone viral in the rescue community. Upon returning from this deployment, Smith was presented the Air Force Commendation Medal by then-18th Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Matt Molloy in a ceremony here.
Off the battlefield, Smith is remembered as a caring father, mentor and friend.
"Smitty was a mentor to all the young Airmen and pilots; he was a father figure to those that didn't have one," Ortiz said. "He and his wife took care of those in need. They always had lots of single Airmen over to his house."
He is survived by his wife, Jessica, also from Bakersfield. The couple has two daughters.
"Team Kadena has lost a hero," said Brig. Gen. James Hecker, 18th Wing commander. "Our hearts are with Smitty's family, friends and loved ones. We all suffer through the loss of one of our precious own."
Hecker urged anyone needing assistance at this difficult time - or who knows someone who may need assistance - to ask for help by contacting their supervisor or any Team Kadena chaplain.
The other three crew members involved in the mishap were rescued by emergency responders and received medical care at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa.
Here in Japan, the 33rd Rescue Squadron is most recently known for its role in providing disaster relief and search and rescue functions during Operation Tomodachi following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated mainland Japan.
The Pave Hawk's primary mission is to conduct day or night personnel recovery operations. It also supports civil search and rescue, medical evacuation, disaster response and humanitarian assistance.
More details will be released as they become available.
8/13/2013 5:55:14 PM ET Thank you for the kind words thoughts and prayers. This has been a difficult time even for those of us on the response teams who did not know Smitty. It's always painful to lose a brother even one we did not know. We will take care of his family. Please continue to keep them in your thoughts and prayers including his 33rd RQS family and all of Team Kadena.
Jinnie Lettkeman, Kadena AB Japan
8/13/2013 12:25:37 AM ET All my prayers and heart to the 33rd RQS family as I was a former member. We have been through allot but the rescue family will always be close no matter where we are in the world. My payers to the family and children of TSGt Smith. And Thank you very much or being there always. MFE rescue.
Edmund V. Morgan, Ramstein AB Germany
8/10/2013 8:40:25 PM ET Thank you that I will protect Japan. I wish for the souls.
IIYAMA BUNJIRO, Shizuoka Japan
8/10/2013 2:54:31 PM ET What a true hero. RIP A great guy who would help you no matter what. Sad day for the AF So sad for the family.
William Lambert, Lackland AFB
8/10/2013 2:16:04 PM ET My prayers are with all the members of the 33rd RQS as a former member myself--1968 PJ at Naha AB Okinawa.
John C. Ratliff, Beaverton Oregon
8/10/2013 9:04:38 AM ET We are saddened by the news of loss of Sergeant Smith. Many Japanese were praying for his recovery as we learned that he worked as a member of Tomodachi operation. Please look after Ms. Smith and their two children.