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Capt Derek Argel, a Special Tactics Officer assigned to the 23d Special Tactics Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida, perished on 30 May 2005 in the crash of an Iraqi Air Force SL7 reconnaissance/transport plane. Captain Argel was participating in an operational mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom when the aircraft crashed in the Divala Province of Iraq about 80 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Captain Argel was born in Lompoc, California and attended Carrillo High School where he played water polo and was named 1994 league MVP. He continued his water polo career at the United States Air Force Academy. Upon graduation in 2001, he entered into the Combat Control training pipeline, earning the red beret of a Special Tactics Officer in 2003.

Following his graduation from Class 06 of the Advanced Skills Training course at Hurlburt Field, Captain Argel was assigned to the 23d Special Tactics Squadron, making his first operational deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Captain Argel’s awards include the Bronze Star with Valor Device, the Air Force Achievement Medal, The National Defense Service Medal, and the Global War on Terrorism Medal.

He is survived by his wife Wendy and son Logan.

Captain Derek M. Argel distinguished himself by heroism as a Special Tactics Officer, 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, 720th Special Tactics Group, Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command, while engaged in ground combat against an enemy of the United States from 18 February 2005 to 30 May 2005. During this period, Captain Argel served in multiple roles as Director of Operations, Joint Terminal Attack Controller and landing zone assessment team leader supporting taskings across three separate continents within United States Central Command. Captain Argel was selected as a primary Joint Terminal Attack Controller for multiple distinguished visitors, to include the First Lady of the United States, the United States Ambassador to Afghanistan, and Special Envoy to the President of the United States. His swift decision-making while continually exposed to Al Qaeda and Taliban attacks during movements through hostile territory, guaranteed the safety and security of the distinguished visitors as well as preserved the stability of Afghanistan. His efforts culminated in personal recognition from Ambassador Khalilzad, highlighting the lasting impression expressed by the Ambassador of the amazing capabilities that special tactics personnel bring to the ongoing fight in the Global War on Terror. Furthermore, Captain Argel led a four-man special tactics team executing a forward deployed aerial refueling and rearming point, providing additional capabilities to coalition forces operating in theater. As the sole air liaison supporting United States Marine Corps’ Operation CELTIC, he facilitated aerial re-supply in harsh terrain during eight hours of armed escort with fixed-wing air assets as well as numerous helicopter landing zone controls supporting air assaults and medical evacuations. Captain Argel then led a five-man team to conduct multiple landing zone survey operations supporting the 6th Expeditionary Special Operation Squadron’s re-supply of the 10th Special Forces Group. It was during this Memorial Day mission on 30 May 2005 Captain Argel made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. By his heroic actions and unselfish dedication to duty in the service of his country, Captain Argel has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Former Air Force water polo player Capt. Derek Argel, 28, along with three other U.S. Airmen and an Iraqi airman, was killed on May 30, when an Iraqi air force Comp Air 7SL aircraft crashed in eastern Diyala province during an operational mission. The crash happened near Jalula which is about 50 miles northeast of Ba'qubah. The cause of the crash, which is being classified as non-hostile, is currently under investigation.

Argel was stationed with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., and was promoted to captain just hours before his death. He leaves behind his wife, Wendy, and 10-month-old son, Logan.

Argel was a four-year letterwinner for the Air Force water polo team from 1997-2000, earning all-conference honors as a senior. He was also one of the inaugural members of the Falcon Club, which recognizes the team's elite athletes. As a senior, he tried out for the boxing team, making it all the way to the heavyweight finals in the annual Wing Open, before dropping a split decision in the championship bout.

Argel graduated from Cabrillo High School in Lompoc, Calif., in 1995, and attended both Northwestern Prep School and the Academy Prep School before enrolling in the Air Force Academy in 1997. He was recruited to the Academy by former Falcon head coach Jeff Heidmous, a fellow Cabrillo alumnus.

"I'll remember Derek most for his undying spirit and his endless sense of humor and contagious laugh, " said Heidmous. "His family, friends, classmates, Falcon Polo brothers and the STO (Special Tactics Operations) community are deeply saddened -- Derek was a great man, dedicated to serving his nation at the very tip of the spear."

"My heart goes out to Derek's immediate family, wife and son," said current Air Force head water polo coach Jeff Ehrlich, who coached Argel in his final two seasons at the Academy. "Derek has made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. Derek loved what he was doing and always gave 100% toward anything he ever did."

Perhaps best illustrating the type of effort that Argel put forth on a consistent basis was a feature in the February 2003 edition of Airman Magazine highlighting the advanced skills training of Combat Controllers. Dubbed "Mr. Water Polo" by his instructors, Argel toted a heavy tree stump throughout much of his special operations training to provide a greater physical challenge.

"Derek was one of my favorite players and was instrumental in recruiting me to coach at the Air Force Academy," continued Ehrlich. "He also influenced my daughter, Cori, who graduated in 2004 and is in pilot training at Eglin AFB, Fla., to attend the Academy."

Ehrlich has announced plans for the Capt. Derek Argel Memorial Award, which will be given annually at the team's awards banquet to the athlete who demonstrates perseverance and an incredible work ethic, those attributes which most exemplify the character of Argel. 

"Memorial Day was a very sad day for Air Force Water Polo and our United States Air Force Academy," said Ehrlich.

1 War. 2 Deaths. 1 Year Later.
Widows bound by true meaning of Memorial Day
By Rick Hampson, May 26, 2006

More than 850 Americans have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since last Memorial Day. For many of their loved ones, the day's meaning has been transformed. This Memorial Day will feel like their first.

Memorial Day 2005: America is at the park, in the water, around the grill. At a walleye fishing tournament in Dubuque, Iowa, a lawn mower race in Hillsborough, N.J., a techno-music festival in Detroit. Dania Jai-Alai near Miami offers free U.S. flag magnets, while supplies last.

There are countless sack races, eating contests and tugs of war, endless sales on everything from RVs to bikinis. All patriotic T-shirts are $5 at eight Sears stores in greater Phoenix, while supplies last.

This is how most of us spend Memorial Day, an occasion for remembrance that morphed, through years of peace, into beer, ball, boats and barbecue.

But three years of war have revived the holiday's original meaning. Today, for the families of two young Air Force officers, the gateway to summer will become a portal to grief.

In Iraq, Derek Argel and Jeremy Fresques — both Air Force Academy class of 2001, both commandos, both promoted this day to captain — prepare to fly off on a classified mission.

In Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Capt. Argel's wife, Wendy, sits down at the computer as their 10-month-old son, Logan, plays on the floor. She wants Derek to have an e-mail from her when he gets back.

The television shows scenes of parades and cemetery services. In the e-mail's subject field, she types, “Memorial Day.”

In nearby Destin, Fla., Capt. Fresques' wife, Lindsey, also an Air Force captain, joins the annual “Gate to Gate” road race at Eglin Air Force Base. She and other runners drop carnations at the base Veterans Memorial as they jog past.

Right; Debbie Argel-Bastian and her son, Derek Argel

In Yuma, Ariz., Fresques' father, Nick, has gotten a call from his wife, Sherry, asking him to come home early from work. After all, it's Memorial Day. In Santa Barbara, Calif., Argel's mother, Debbie, enjoys a poolside martini in her father-in-law's backyard.

All are patriotic Americans who have relatives at war. Still, for them as for almost everyone else, Memorial Day is 90% recreation and 10% recollection. Before the day is over, that will change forever.

More than a dozen communities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, including Waterloo, N.Y., (designated as such by Congress in 1966); Columbus, Miss. (recognized by the Library of Congress in 1958); and Boalsburg, Pa., where in 1864 three women started a tradition of decorating Civil War soldiers' graves with flowers.

On May 30, 1868, Union veterans first officially observed Decoration Day. Over the next century, a succession of wars swelled the importance of what became known as Memorial Day.

In 1971, Congress divorced Memorial Day from May 30, making it the last Monday in May. By 2000, the day's original meaning had become so subsumed in the festive three-day weekend that Congress passed the national Moment of Remembrance Act, asking for a moment of silence at 3 p.m.

Pictured; Derek observes a moment of silence with his son, Logan

Years of peace also took their toll. For many, Memorial Day was old men walking around in funny hats and outfits wearing obscure ribbons and medals — forgotten heroes of forgotten wars.

In Farmington, N.M., where Jeremy Fresques grew up, his mother mostly recalls the kids' baseball games and soccer tournaments. His father sums it up: “Memorial Day was a picnic.”

In Lompoc, Calif., where Derek Argel grew up near Vandenberg Air Force Base, Memorial Day was different. The main street was lined with flags. Hundreds of people gathered at the cemetery. A clergyman read the names of the war dead, Scouts placed a flag on every veteran's grave and a bugler played taps.

Derek's grandfather was a career Marine who fought in World War II.

In the sixth grade, Derek wrote that on Memorial Day, “We should put the flag out at our homes, and go to the service at the cemetery. On this day we show respect to the veterans who risked their lives or were killed protecting our freedom and flag. I am happy to see them put a little flag on my grandfather's grave.”

In Iraq on Memorial Day 2005, Fresques, 26, and Argel, 28, have made captain. However, there's no time for a promotion ceremony. Because they're on a mission, they're not even wearing their new silver bars. A promotion “would have been the last thing on their minds,” says Col. Kenneth Rodriquez, their group commander. “These guys were very mission-focused.”

Only a few cadets from each Air Force Academy class are selected to wear the red beret of the Air Force's Special Tactics unit. They're called Combat Controllers, a dry term for shock troops trained to land in hostile territory, set up and protect landing fields, and direct aircraft into them.

Argel: water polo star, 6-5, 210, 4% body fat. Wanted to go to the Air Force Academy so badly he attended two prep schools after high school to get in. On a whim, entered academy boxing tournament, having never boxed before, and made the finals, losing a split decision. Set so many records in commando training he had to lug a hunk of driftwood as handicap.

Fresques: hard worker, deep thinker. Considered military academies because he didn't want to get a loan to attend University of Arizona. Joked that he chose Colorado Springs over West Point because female cadets were better looking; said the Air Force treated officers better. Found Jesus in his senior year at the academy. Upon seeing copy of Maxim, the men's magazine, on the desk of a superior officer, he said, “Sir, you aren't going to read that, are you?” Disqualified by eyesight for flight school, he became a communications officer. Applied for elite special ops unit after deciding that he'd “go crazy sitting at a desk.”

Argel, a rising star in Special Tactics, has decided to make a career of it. Fresques plans to leave the Air Force in 2006 and possibly go into real estate. Both will finish their tour in a month and go home.

“I'm definitely ready,” Fresques e-mails his parents on May 26. Three days later he writes in his journal that he's not afraid of dying, only “the process of dying.” He says his fondest desire is to be “raptured with Lindsey” into heaven to be with Jesus.

On Memorial Day, the two captains board the surveillance plane to scout potential emergency landing sites. Winds are calm, visibility unrestricted.

In the early afternoon, a holiday rooted in wars past is transformed by news from war today:

Four U.S. airmen and an Iraqi Air Force pilot were killed when their light plane crashed and exploded into flames 80 miles northeast of Baghdad. The plane went down about an hour after takeoff from Kirkuk. The cause of the crash was under investigation.

Wendy Argel is on an errand when she gets a call from her mother at home with little Logan. There are soldiers there to see her.

Wendy's father was an Air Force pilot. She knows what that means.

While she was writing that e-mail, her husband was dead.

A few miles away, Lindsey Fresques is bustling around her town house getting ready for a barbecue when there's a knock on the door. Four soldiers are standing there.

One is a major who attended her wedding, and the look on his face says this will be the worst day of her life. The carnation she'd dropped at the memorial had been for her own husband.

The young widows spread the sad news. Wendy reaches her mother-in-law in Santa Barbara. Debbie sinks to her knees. Her husband thinks she's having a stroke.

Lindsey calls Sherry Fresques, who again calls Nick at work. “Jeremy won't be coming back,” she explains.

In Iraq, where an investigation will later rule out hostile fire and mechanical failure, only a few personal items are recovered from the wreckage. They include a silver cross Jeremy had bought in Jerusalem and wore around his neck, and Derek's gold wedding ring.

Some of the human remains are burned too badly for identification. Later, these intermingled ashes will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The pilot will become the first Iraqi interred there.

Four days after the crash, a ceremony is held in a hangar at Hurlburt Field in Florida, where the four airmen were based. Each is awarded the Bronze Star. Each soldier is represented by combat boots, a rifle, a helmet and, of course, a red beret.

This year, for the friends and relatives of Jeremy and Derek, Memorial Day will be no picnic.

Nick Fresques: “It always meant something to me, but it wasn't a real important day. I didn't know anyone real close that even served in a war. Now that my son … Now it's completely different. Until something like this happens, unfortunately, it's hard to realize the true meaning of Memorial Day.”

Sherry Fresques: “It's a new experience for me, picking out what to put on your son's grave. I've selected two white roses, symbolizing purity, as well as a spray of red, white and blue stars that kind of reminds me of fireworks — Jeremy loved fireworks. And I'll probably put up this little flagpole. The flag's one of those sparkly ones.”

Wendy Argel: “Memorial Day is a big deal down here, but I know in some other places it's not. But we're living in wartime. I hope people remember that. It's not just numbers. One of those numbers happens to be my husband.”

Lindsey Fresques: “It reminds you that there really are people who make sacrifices. Jeremy and I used to think, ‘You go in and do your time, and then you get out.' So what happened makes the meaning and honor of military service a lot more real.”

Debbie Argel Bastian: “Memorial Day will always be difficult for me now, but it will also have so much more honor attached to it.”

For tough guys, Derek and Jeremy were never very aggressive around women.

Wendy basically picked up Derek, making eyes at him in a bar on St. Patrick's Day. Lindsey and Jeremy met when she was his superior officer and instructor in air traffic training school. Taking a cue from Top Gun, she passed him a note inviting him to dinner.

Now there's an overwhelming sense of what might have been. Derek was away for about half of his two-year marriage. Jeremy was overseas on his only wedding anniversary. Wendy wears Derek's ring around her neck. Lindsey wears Jeremy's cross around hers.

Last month, Wendy and Lindsey went sky diving, each for the first time, doing something their guys enjoyed doing.

On Memorial Day, they'll be at Walt Disney World, where Wendy's looking forward to the roller coasters. “It's the adrenaline,” she says. “You can't help but smile.”

Disney — “the happiest place on earth,” Lindsey says, reciting Walt's famous claim. But there's a touch of irony in her voice, suggesting that there are days when there are no happy places on earth, and that this Memorial Day could be one of them.

Right; Wendy and Lindsey visit Arlington Cemetery and share a bittersweet moment.

"He was just a soldier by every means of the imagination. He felt like God intended him to contribute this way. He just truly believed in it with his core, and wanted to contribute."  —  Wendy Argel, widow

First There That Others May Live; Derek Argel, R.I.P.

Fallen Airmen Memorialized at Hurlburt  

Deb Rides Across the U.S.A. for the Warrior Foundation

Click Here for a short Video about Todd & Deb's Mission

The USAF Academy Honors Grads with Memorial Dedication

"Letters for Logan" is the heartfelt story of a mother's timeless love for her son, and the legacy she is compelled to leave her grandson. Air Force Capt. Derek Argel, 28, was larger-than-life--athletic, loving, dedicated, loyal and above all, a son to Debbie, husband to Wendy and father to Logan. Within days of his tragic death in the line of duty on Memorial Day of 2005 in Iraq, the first letter to Logan arrived. Then another came, and they kept coming, from friends, colleagues, warriors and family. They still arrive, even years after the Combat Controller's death, each one weaving an enduring portrait for a little boy of his fallen father, gone too soon. Proceeds from this book will go to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, rated as a four-star charity by Charity Navigator. The foundation provides full scholarship grants, educational and family counseling to the surviving children of special operations personnel who die in operational or training missions, and immediate financial assistance to severely wounded special operations personnel and their families. The family of Capt. Derek Argel believes wholeheartedly in the mission of the foundation. "First there, That Others may Live"

You can order this book by clicking here

Pictured Above, Deb and Derek Argel

Derek Argel was more at home in the water than out of it.  The native of Lompoc, Calif., competed on the city's swim team, worked as a lifeguard and was a star player on the Cabrillo High School water polo team until his graduation in 1995.

Argel was named most valuable player in his high school water polo league, and played the sport at the Academy, where he graduated in 2000.

“He worked exceptionally hard. He never took anything for granted,” Cabrillo High School athletic director Bob Lawrence said.

He said the 6-foot-6 Argel towered over him. “He always leaned over and hugged me. He doesn’t ever leave without saying he loves me.”

Argel, who graduated from the school in 1995, brought his wife and young son with him when he last returned to Lompoc to attend the high school’s annual alumni game in October. He gave his old teachers photos of him in uniform.

“His life was always secondary to the United States of America,” friend David Riley said.

Contact Deb at argeldebra@hotmail.com for information and to donate, mail check to 121 N. W St., Lompac, CA. 93436