Fallen OSI agents honored
By Senior Airman Terri Barriere, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 05, 2007
BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- A memorial service was held here Nov. 4 to honor the lives of three Air Force Office of Special Investigations agents who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom.
Airmen and Soldiers gathered to pay their respects and celebrate the lives of Master Sgt. Thomas A. Crowell, 36, of Neosho, Mo.; Staff Sgt. David A. Wieger, 28, of North Huntingdon, Pa.; and Department of the Air Force Civilian Nathan J. Schuldheiss, 27, of Newport, Rhode Island, who were killed in the line of duty when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device Nov. 1.
Chaplain Maj. David Allen urged those in attendance to "mourn the life of the three special men who willingly laid down their life for our freedom; mourn their life and honor their sacrifice."
"They laid down their lives for friends, family and people who might never even know their names, but we won't let their life go unnoticed," he said.
As the chaplain spoke to the room of grievers, he assured everyone it was perfectly okay to cry.
"Tears are not a sign of weakness but a sign of love," he said. "They are a way of expressing our sorrow for those who have fallen in combat. We lived with them, worked with them and fought with them and this has shaken us not just physically but emotionally."
AFOSI agents came from throughout the area of responsibility to show their support and pay their final respects to their fallen team members.
Brig. Gen. Dana Simmons said words could not pay proper justice to the agents, whose efforts, he said, undoubtedly saved lives.
"The past few days have been really tough for us -- tough for us as an Air Force -- as we all lost three very special family members," the general said. "It'll never be easy. The pain will linger, it may diminish, but it will always be present."
He called the men extraordinary, saying they could have chosen something less dangerous but instead chose the path of honor and sacrifice.
"Each time the nation has called, OSI and the Air Force have responded," he said. "Brave Airmen continue to step forward. Today is the time for tears. Tomorrow we will refocus efforts and continue to carry the standard and traditions of these men."
During the ceremony, detachment members reflected on the lives of their fellow agents. Special Agent Ryan Smith, AFOSI Expeditionary Detachment 2411, remembered the men.
"Working with a small team is unique," he said. "We live and work out of the same facility and we are around each other 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. We became a family. We had our moments, but we were a family. Nate was always the man with the plan; Dave always made fun of the man with the plan and Tom was the voice of reason -- he executed the plan. But when it was game time, they performed."
He described them as men who exemplified the Air Force's core values and promised to carry on with the courage and valor they displayed.
It wasn't the only promise made to the three agents and their families during the ceremony.
General Simmons made two more commitments.
He promised to "never forget what they did for us -- the United States Air Force," and vowed to catch the "cowards who did this to them."
"We must continue this fight," the general said. "They gave their lives for it and now we are the ones who will continue it, who will honor their sacrifice and continue."
Though there to give honor to his fallen troops, the general said it's he who actually felt the most honored.
"I am a lucky Air Force officer," he said. "Every single day I have the honor of serving in the company of magnificent people, Airmen and Americans. I am truly honored and humbled to have known them and been their commander."
Sergeant Crowell was assigned to Detachment 301, Scott Air Force Base, Ill. Sergeant Wieger was assigned to Detachment 303, Travis AFB, Calif. Mr. Schuldheiss was assigned to Detachment 204, Offutt AFB, Neb.