By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — The commander of the Cannon Air Force Base bomb disposal unit was killed Sunday when a helicopter transporting soldiers went down in a lake in Iraq, according to military officials.
Capt. Kermit O. Evans, 31, was one of four who died Sunday when their Sea Knight helicopter plunged into Lake Qadisiyah in volatile Anbar Province around 4:30 a.m. New Mexico time, the military said.
Evans is the second military member with ties to Cannon killed in Iraq in a week. Maj. Troy L. Gilbert, 34, of Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., was flying an F-16 jet assigned to Cannon when he crashed Nov. 27. The military confirmed Gilbert’s death on Sunday. Gilbert’s wife is a Clovis native.
Evans was a U.S. Air Force Civil Engineer, Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight commander at Cannon deployed to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad Air Base, Iraq, Cannon said.
He was assigned as an operations officer at Camp Victory, Baghdad.
“The Cannon EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) flight and the EOD career field are going to miss a great leader, mentor and friend,” Master Sgt. Harold Hailer, flight chief for the Cannon unit said Tuesday. Hailer said he has known Evans for about a year and worked closely with him for about five months in between deployments.
On his way back to Camp Victory, the U.S. Marine Corps CH-46 helicopter Evans was riding in made an emergency water landing, Cannon officials said.
Early Monday the military reported three servicemen missing in the crash and one Marine had died. By Monday afternoon the bodies had been recovered and all 16 personnel aboard the chopper were accounted for. There were 12 survivors.
Service members commonly catch rides on available aircraft as they travel throughout the region, which is what Evans had done, said Cannon spokeswoman Capt. Rebecca Garcia.
“In our career field, we don’t expect someone to die in an accident such as this. We go outside the wire all the time,” Hailer said referring to the dangers military bomb disposal technicians face in combat zones.
Serving as commander of the weapons intelligence flight, Evans was overseeing post-blast investigative teams whose mission was to collect emerging enemy technology, tactics and procedures for use to counter improvised explosive devices, according to information provided by Garcia.
Evans was slated to return from Iraq in January and redeploy in February, Garcia said. He had been deployed since July. He was recently assigned to a second tour at Cannon, family members said.
Evans’ wife Pernetha Evans and the couple’s 13-month-old son, Kermit Jr., are living in Las Vegas to be near her family during his deployment, family said.
Cannon was Evans’ first assignment as bomb technician after completing training in the field, Hailer said. In the Air Force since August 2001, Evans formerly worked in planning for civil engineering.
“Capt. Evans’ comrades will always remember the big smile he had on his face since setting off his first detonation — it never wore off. He had it on every day he was here no matter how mundane the task we were doing at the time,” he said.
Born: April 15, 1975, Hollandale, Miss.
Hometown: Hollandale, Miss.
Died: Sunday, Dec. 3, 2006, in Iraq
Entered Air Force: August 2001
Unit: 27th Fighter Wing, Explosive Ordnance Disposal, flight commander
Specialty: Explosive Ordnance Disposal
Deployed assignment: 732 Expeditionary Mission Support Group, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Detachment 5 Weapons Inspection Flight, Camp Victory, Baghdad.
Combat service: Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom
Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nev. — Noon (PST) Thursday.
Hollandale, Miss. — 1 p.m. (CST) Saturday
Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va. — 9 a.m. Tuesday (EST)
Memorial funds have been established in Clovis for the Evans and Gilbert families.
The family of Maj. Troy Gilbert:
Donations may be dropped off at Bank of Clovis, 300 Main St., or the Clovis News Journal and Portales News-Tribune offices, 521 Pile St. in Clovis and 101 E. First in Portales.
Donations for the non-profit memorial fund also are being raised in Arizona, where the pilot was stationed at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix.
The family of Capt. Kermit Evans:
Donations may be taken to Cannon Federal Credit Union. For information, contact Master Sgt. Harold Hailer, 27th Civil Engineer Squadron, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight Chief 784-2909.
A list of military personnel with area ties who have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts:
• Air Force Maj. Troy L. Gilbert, 34, died Nov. 27 when an F-16 he was flying crashed in the Al Anbar Province, Iraq. The plane was assigned to Cannon Air Force Base. Gilbert’s wife, Ginger, is a Clovis native. Her parents are Jay and Judi Gurley of Clovis.
• Army Sgt. Leroy Segura Jr., 23, of Clovis, died Aug. 4 in Iraq from injuries he received in a vehicle accident. His parents, Leroy and Sandra Segura, live in Clovis.
• Army Sgt. Robert P. Kassin, 29, a former Clovis resident, died July 16 in Afghanistan of small-arms fire while on patrol. He attended high school in Clovis. His parents, Robert and Lucia Kassin, live in Clovis.
• Army Pfc. Rick Salas Jr., 22, of Roswell, was killed March 6 when the Humvee vehicle he was driving in Iraq was hit by a roadside bomb and flipped. His mother, Brenda Robertson, was working at Clovis Community College at the time.
• Army Pfc. Damian Garza, 19, of Odessa, Texas, died Aug. 4, 2005, in Afghanistan after his vehicle slid off the road into a river. Garza was raised in Portales and had extended family in the area, including his grandmother Lydia Pineda and his uncle Joe Garza of Portales.
• U.S. Marine Chad Bales, 20, formerly of Muleshoe, was killed April 3, 2003, in a non-combat accident in Iraq. Officials said he died when his convoy crashed into another during a sandstorm. He is the son of Kem Bales of Muleshoe.