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Air Base Honors Afghan Crash Victims

March 28, 2003

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AP) _ About 1,200 mourners packed a hangar at this base Thursday to honor six members of an Air Force rescue team who died in Afghanistan during a nighttime mercy mission.

``We grieve the loss of some of our family,″ said Brig. Gen. John Folkerts, commander of Moody Air Force Base in south-central Georgia. ``We’ll honor them throughout history for their deeds, but today we say, ’We miss you.‴

Photos of the lost airmen stood on a table beneath a large U.S. flag. The helicopter crew was represented by four flight helmets, and the pararescue specialists who were with them by two maroon berets.

The six were flying in a HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter that crashed Sunday night in the foothills about 20 miles north of the town of Ghazni in eastern Afghanistan.

Officials said they don’t believe the crash was the result of enemy action. The crew was attempting to refuel from an HC-130 airplane and may have run into bad weather.

The dead were 1st Lt. Tamara Archuleta, 23, of Los Lunas, N.M.; Staff Sgt. Jason Hicks, 25, of Jefferson, S.C.; Master Sgt. Michael Maltz, 42, of St. Petersburg, Fla.; Senior Airman Jason Plite, 21, of Lansing, Mich.; Lt. Col. John Stein, 39, of Bardolph, Ill.; and Staff Sgt. John Teal, 29, of Dallas.

They were members of the 347th Operations Group, which specializes in rescuing downed pilots behind enemy lines. But on Sunday they were sent out to transport two children with head injuries to a hospital.

Archuleta’s uncle, Michael Long, said he’s proud of his niece and the others.

``They were everything that is right and just about America,″ he said. ``Theirs was a mission of peace at a time of war. ... Members of this crew were true heroes.″

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