ANCHORAGE - Three Anchorage area men and a Washington state native were the four Alaska Army National Guard crew members who died in a weekend helicopter crash in northern Iraq.
Family, friends and officials on Tuesday identified the victims as 1st Lt. Jaime Lynn Campbell of Fort Wainwright, Chief Warrant Officer Chester William Troxel of Anchorage, and Specialists Michael Ignatius Edwards of Anchorage and Jacob Eugene Melson of Wasilla. All four were members of the Guard's 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment.
Four civilians and four other military personnel also were killed in the crash Saturday.
Campbell, 25, and Troxel, 44, were piloting the UH-60L Black Hawk when the aircraft went down, said Brig. Gen. Craig Christensen, the state guard's commander. Melson, 22, and Edwards, 26, were on-board door gunners.
Campbell had been living at the Fairbanks post with her husband. Army Capt. Sam Campbell also is in Iraq and will fly back with his wife's body, said her mother, Miki Krausse of Ephrata, Wash. Krausse said in a phone interview that her daughter was one of the two pilots flying the UH-60L Black Hawk went down.
Between sobs, Krausse described Jaime Campbell as selfless and talented, an artist and expert horsewoman, the eldest of three daughters. While still in high school in Ephrata, she mastered her horse-handling skills so well she represented the state as rodeo queen. She enlisted in the Washington Army National Guard in 1999, joining the Alaska counterpart in March 2003.
"When she decided to do something, it had to be her best," Krausse said. "She was as beautiful inside as she was outside."
Jaime and her mother e-mailed each other every day and she also was close with her father, Jeff, an Army command sergeant major who just returned from his own tour in Iraq. Jeff Krausse said he spent five days with his daughter two months ago during a short break. His last image is of her in the pilot's seat when she flew him back to his post.
"I never got to give her a hug goodbye," he said, his voice breaking.
The last time Miki Krausse heard Jaime's voice was when she called to wish everyone a happy New Year.
"She said she loved us and missed us and couldn't wait to come home," she said. "She always told us she was safe, that she could take care of herself. She said not to worry about her."
Troxel, who joined the Guard in 1983, was a pilot and mechanic who lived in south Anchorage with his wife and two teenage children. He believed in "the mission the United States is attempting to accomplish in the Middle East," the family said Tuesday in a written statement.
"Chester loved his God, his family and his country," the statement said.
The Rev. Jerry Prevo, said Troxel and his family were very active at his church, the Anchorage Baptist Temple. Troxel was extremely devoted to his family, a friendly man who was often willing to help where needed, Prevo said.
Every year, Troxel made it a point to fly a Pave Hawk over to the private school run by the church, touching down on the parking lot before delighted children. He would let them climb in and then answer their many questions.
"That's why he would do it on an annual basis, because the kids got so excited about it," Prevo said. "Our absenteeism always was down on those days."
Danielle O'Brien, Edwards' fiance, released a brief statement: "The family appreciates all the thoughtfulness and outpouring of kindness and gifts from the community; however, during this difficult time we ask that you allow us to mourn privately."
Edwards, a helicopter repairman, was from the Bronx, N.Y. He joined the Alaska Army National Guard in October 2003 and had eight years combined military service including the Army and Army Reserve.
Melson's family could not be reached Tuesday, but officials said he followed in the footsteps of his father, Mark Melson, a captain in the Alaska Army National Guard. In 2004, Jacob Melson won a state commendation for his effort in fighting Interior Alaska fires.
The deaths were the first wartime fatalities since World War Two for members of the Alaska Army National Guard.
In Saturday's crash, the Black Hawk was providing support for the 101st Airborne Division. It crashed east of Tal Afar, a northern city that has in the past seen heavy fighting with insurgents.
The cause of the crash is not known.
It was the deadliest helicopter crash in Iraq since about a year ago when a CH-53 Sea Stallion went down in bad weather in western Iraq, killing 31 U.S. service members.
On Tuesday, Gov. Frank Murkowski ordered that state flags be flown at half staff until Jan. 18 in honor of the four Alaskans who died.
"We are deeply saddened by their deaths and express our sincere condolences to their families and friends," Murkowski said in a prepared statement. "At this time of great sadness, we honor their commitment to Alaska, to their country and to freedom and democracy around the world."
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