Four National Guardsmen who were killed in a helicopter crash during a training exercise off Florida last week had decades of service, numerous awards and medals and thousands of flight and combat hours among them.
One of the soldiers had four children, two had two children each, and one had his first on the way, according to the Louisiana National Guard, which identified them on Monday, almost a week after the Black Hawk went down in heavy fog.
Killed were Chief Warrant Officer 4 George Wayne Griffin Jr., 37; Chief Warrant Officer 4 George David Strother, 44; Staff Sgt. Lance Bergeron, 40; and Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich, 26. Seven Marines killed alongside them were identified last week.
Recovery teams had trouble finding two of the guardsmen in the wreckage, and one was only identified Sunday, said Maj. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard.
"We now know that we have our four soldiers," Curtis told reporters Monday. "I think it's, to me, the first critical step in closure."
Griffin joined the Louisiana National Guard in 1994 and had deployed to Iraq twice, in 2004 and 2005, Curtis said. He is survived by his wife and four children.
Strother served in the National Guard from 1988 to 2007, and again beginning in 2009. He deployed to Iraq in 2004 and Afghanistan in 2011. He is survived by his wife, son and stepdaughter.
Bergeron enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1998 and joined the National Guard in 2001. He deployed to Iraq twice, in 2004 and in 2008. He is survived by his wife and two children.
Florich joined the National Guard in 2007. He was posthumously promoted from sergeant to staff sergeant, according to a statement from the Louisiana National Guard. His wife is pregnant with their first child.
All four had responded to disasters in the state, including the BP oil spill in 2010 and Hurricanes Katrina, Isaac and Rita, according to the statement.
"These heroes' names will forever be etched on our hearts and in our minds," Curtis said. "These Guardsmen represent the best of us."
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— Elisha Fieldstadt