Fallen airmen saluted at Beale memorial
May 7, 2013
Two Beale Air Force Base airmen were among four honored during a memorial service Monday that was attended by hundreds in a base hangar.
The four were killed when their MC-12 Liberty aircraft crashed on April 27 in Zabul province, about 110 miles northeast of Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.
The two Beale airmen were Staff Sgt. Richard A. Dickson, 24, a Rancho Cordova native; and Capt. Reid K. Nishizuka, 30, of Kailua, Hawaii.
Dickson, a tactical systems operator, was assigned to the 306th Intelligence Squadron. Nishizuka, a pilot, was assigned to the 427th Reconnaissance Squadron.
Staff Sgt. Scott Pendergrass' voice billowed throughout the hangar as he sang the national anthem to a standing crowd of more than 500 people on a rainy morning.
An oversized American flag provided the backdrop for the stoic occasion where the four airmen were remembered.
Capt. Michelle Ruehl, of the 427th Reconnaissance Squadron, said, "It is important for us as a community to give thanks for their service and to honor their sacrifice as we acknowledge the impact their passing has had on our squadrons and team Beale."
Maj. Gen. Robert Otto, commander of Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, said the airmen did not die in vain and their efforts saved lives.
"They constantly put their lives in harm's way to provide detailed information," said Otto, a former Beale commander.
The MC-12 is a twin-engine turboprop aircraft that has been providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to ground troops since June 2009.
Col. Phil Stewart, commander of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, said MC-12s flew more than 20,000 missions last year and this was the first time the aircraft has crashed.
The four airmen were deployed to Kandahar Airfield. The cause of the accident remains under investigation and initial reports indicate there was no enemy activity at the time of the crash.
All four posthumously received the Bronze Star.
Monday's service concluded with the playing of "Taps" as airmen stood and saluted and an MC-12 did a flyover.
Nishizuka's mother wiped away tears as she left the service.
Airmen took nearly an hour to file out as two-by-two, they walked to the front of the memorial to give one final salute to their fallen airmen.
Dickson joined the Air Force in 2006 and was on his second combat tour in the MC-12. He had 891 combat hours in the plane and 1,458 hours in other aircraft. He is survived by multiple family members, including his wife, Lacie; and daughter, Sophie.
Staff Sgt. Brian Rheault served with Dickson in Iraq in 2009.
"He was an excellent operator," he said. Rheault said that Dickson will always be an inspiration to him.
Airman 1st Class Drew Bauer remembers Dickson as a quiet person who loved his family.
"He could rock a mean deployment mustache," Bauer said with a laugh.
Dickson hit it off with squadron commander Lt. Col Robb Rigtrup because they were both Korean linguists.
Rigtrup shared a story about Dickson fixing a broken Xbox game console while deployed and said "he became a hero to his squadron."
Nishizuka joined the Air Force in 2005 and was on his fifth deployment. He had 2,434 flying hours and more than 200 combat missions. He is survived by multiple family members including his partner, Xavier Winters.
Lt. Col. David Berg, Nishizuka's squadron commander, said Nishizuka represented the best and brightest this country has to offer.
"He will be greatly missed," Berg said.
Steve Lee was Nishizuka's roommate during undergraduate pilot training and said in a letter that Nishizuka was one of the kindest and most gentle-hearted people he has ever known.
First Lt. Brent Luddington, reading from Lee's letter during the memorial service, said, "His smile and his laugh was contagious and his presence always put us in a better mood. I know that he died doing what he loved most."
Staff Sgt. John Bushbee Jr. read a letter from Capt. Julio Gamez saying how impressed Gamez was with Nishizuka's handling of the MC-12.
"It was a rocket ship and had a nasty habit of biting crews in the butt because it accelerated so fast that it was common for crews to overspeed the gear on a touch and go," Bushbee Jr. read. "Reid was impressive. The landings were smooth, the climb outs weren't choppy or erratic."
Stewart said Dickson and Nishizuka were some of Beale's most experienced crew members.
He said Nishizuka will be remembered for his laughter and smile while Dickson was "the one we all called on when things got tough."
Also remembered were:
• Capt. Brandon L. Cyr, 28, of Woodbridge, Va., assigned to the 906th Air Refueling Squadron, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
• Staff Sgt. Daniel N. Fannin, 30, of Morehead, Ky., assigned to the 552nd Operations Support Squadron, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.
David Bitton is a staff writer with the Marysville Appeal-Democrat.