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Aviano unit honors fallen Airmen

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- The 603rd Air Control Squadron held a remembrance ceremony May 19 to honor the five ‘Scorpions’ who lost their lives since the squadron began operating here in 1994.

The remembrance ceremony focused on the friendships and the lives of the fallen Airmen.

“Today is a day of celebrating and joy, not a day of sadness. I think it’s appropriate to remember them when the nation is remembering Memorial Day because they represent the spirit of Memorial Day,” said Lt. Col. Jennifer Spears, 603rd ACS commander.

The ceremony included the unveiling of a monument dedicated to Airman 1st Class Antoine Holt who was killed April 10, 2004, during a mortar attack at Balad Air Base, Iraq.

Airman Holt’s family was invited to Aviano for the ceremony and their airfare was paid for from a 603rd ACS remembrance fund.

“We spoke with Antoine the same day he left us and he was so upbeat and positive,” said Courtney Garmon, Airman Holt’s mother.

Speaking to the crowd of Airman Holt’s former co-workers and friends, Mrs. Garmon told them, “You are the family we have now. I know a little bit of Antoine is still out there from all the e-mails and letters we get.”

The 603rd ACS members decided to hold the remembrance ceremony as a way to say good-bye to Airman Holt and the four other ‘Scorpions’ lost over the years.

Even though Airman Holt died more than two years ago, his memory lives on in more than 40 Airmen who worked with him and are still stationed here. Several of them took the time to share their experiences with Airman Holt and the impression he left.

One such member was Tech. Sgt. Roger Thornton, Airman Holt’s supervisor who was deployed with him at the time of the attack.

“We became a close-knit family downrange and played basketball together,” he said about the group in the tent with Airman Holt the night of the attack. “He was a young man full of talent and he taught me some things about life. What I’ve taken from this is to give to my Air Force career what I would have given
to him.”

While many of Airman Holt’s peers are still stationed here, one ceremony attendee made a special trip from the states for the unveiling.

For the first time since deploying to Iraq, where he lost his left leg below the knee in the same mortar attack that killed Airman Holt, Scott Palomino returned to Aviano to honor his friend. “I was a little nervous about coming back, but it’s bringing back a lot of memories. It’s a good feeling,” he said.

The remembrance ceremony also recognized four 603rd ‘Scorpions’ who died in non-combat situations, including: Senior Airman Christopher Croft, killed in June 1994, while riding his bicycle to base; 1st Lt. Michael Lacy, who died after suffering injuries in a motorcycle accident in February 1999; Airman 1st Class Shaun Anderson, killed in a motor vehicle accident Jan. 16, 2000; and Staff Sgt. Ricardo Duran Jr., who died from an asthma attack while sleeping Nov. 5, 2005.

Colonel Spears, who knew three of the Airmen personally, said that the remembrance ceremony is “something they would have wanted today.”