A Hero's Anniversary

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. Richard Devereaux
  • 82nd Training Wing commander
Tuesday was a significant day on our base and in our Air Force. It was the one year anniversary of the day Maj Troy Gilbert, an F-16 pilot with the 332d Air Expeditionary Wing in Iraq, was killed in action while flying his F-16 in combat. 

On that day, I attended a touching "Service of Commemoration" at the First Christian Church here in Wichita Falls honoring Troy's memory and the stalwart support of the family he left behind. Part of that family includes Troy's parents, Ronnie and Kay Gilbert, who are part of our Team Sheppard family. Ronnie is a retired SMSgt and serves as the director of our base Outdoor Recreation Center.

One year ago Tuesday, Major Gilbert was leading a flight of two F-16s in an aerial combat mission near Taji, Iraq, where insurgents were unleashing truck-mounted heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, small arms fire and mortars to attack coalition troops. In addition, a downed Army helicopter crew was in danger of being overrun. 

Engaging the enemy meant certain anti-aircraft fire for Major Gilbert, but despite the danger, he went after the insurgents. He launched a strafing attack against the truck, destroying it with his 20-millimeter Gatling gun. Despite enemy fire, Major Gilbert continued to press the insurgents with a second strafing pass at extreme low-level to help save the lives of the helicopter crew and other ground forces. He lost his life on that strafing pass when his aircraft hit the ground.

The "Service of Commemoration" for Maj Gilbert this week was beautiful. Attended by close friends and family of Ron and Kay, along with an impressive contingent from our Services Division, it included remarks and prayer from Col Rick Lipsey, our MSG Commander, testimonies from two of Maj Gilbert's wingmen in Iraq, Maj Kevin Gordon and Capt Trey Herndon of the 80 FTW, an intimate remembrance by Troy's brother-in-law Shane Jimmerman, a thoughtful and inspiring eulogy by the pastor, Dr. David Hartman, beautiful music, and a wonderful rendering by Mr. Hen Hill of High Flight, the poem that has inspired many an aviator. I can't imagine a better remembrance of our fallen Airmen who died while defending American ground forces from the air.

Somewhat ironically, during the service, very little of Troy's last valiant acts as an Airmen were discussed. Instead, the focus was on Troy Gilbert the man--a man who put his faith, family, and friends first in his life. As I listened and learned more about Troy, I realized he was a warrior who believed and lived our AF core value of "service before self" to the utmost. 

He was a selfless servant who in his short life had a greater impact on his friends, family, and country than the rest of us who may live into their elderly years. And the reality is that Troy is not done with us yet. His memory lives on and continues to inspire each of us to reach deep and attain the same high standards of integrity, service, and excellence that he set for himself.

Besides his parents Ronnie and Kay, and sister Rhonda in Texas, Troy is survived by his wife Ginger and five children who live outside of Luke AFB, Arizona. His children will have a lifelong memory of a dad who loved his family and country and God without limit. 

This week at our Sheppard AFB Family of the Year Luncheon, the audience was treated to quotes written by young Sheppard "AF Brats," much like Maj Gilbert's children, describing what it meant to them to be part of an Air Force family. I remembered one of those quotes during Troy's memorial service. The child wrote,

"It is important to be a part of a military family because you can be proud of your family and you can support our troops and serve the country and honor the ones that died trying."

This kid got it exactly right. So should we. Let's honor Troy Gilbert, and be grateful that . . . he "died trying."

Thanks Team Sheppard for all you do to serve our great Air Force and nation.