The seven special-operations Marines killed in a helicopter crash off Florida this week were “tremendous professionals” who had each served in Afghanistan, a Marine commander said Friday. One had recently been awarded the Silver Star for valor.
The helicopter, an Army Black Hawk, went down Tuesday night off the Panhandle in heavy fog during a training exercise. Also on board were four soldiers, all confirmed or presumed dead.
“All of these men were tremendous professionals,” Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of Marine special operations, told reporters. “These truly are the men who protect our country and protect our way of life.”
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He identified the seven Marines as Capt. Stanford Henry Shaw III, Master Sgt. Thomas Saunders, Staff Sgt. Marcus Bawol, Staff Sgt. Trevor Blaylock, Staff Sgt. Liam Flynn, Staff Sgt. Kerry Kemp and Staff Sgt. Andrew Seif.
All seven were stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Seif received the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest award for valor, last week.
The four soldiers, from the Louisiana Army National Guard, were assigned to the 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion in Hammond, Louisiana. The bodies of two have been found in the wreckage. The other two are presumed dead. The names of the four have not been made public.
The helicopter’s flight data recorder was believed to be in the wreckage and has not been retrieved, officials said. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
The downed helicopter was being pulled from the waters of Santa Rosa Sound on Friday. The salvage operation was expected to take about eight hours, a spokesman for Eglin Air Force Base told NBC News.
— Elizabeth Chuck and Mark Potter