On Memorial Day, Linda Crate of Spanaway received the news every military mother dreads.

Her only child, Staff Sgt. Casey Crate, 26, had been killed in an air crash northwest of Baghdad.

"What an appropriate day," Linda Crate said. "If it happens, what a great tribute. That's how I look at it. I know he is with God and in a safe place."

The Defense Department yesterday made public the deaths of Crate and three other airmen who died in the crash Monday: Maj. William Downs, 40, of Winchester, Va.; Capt. Jeremy Fresques, 26, of Clarkdale, Ariz.; Capt. Derek Argel, 28, of Lompoc, Calif.

All were assigned to Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field in Florida.

Crate grew up in Spanaway, Pierce County, and graduated from Spanaway Lake High School in 1996.

He enrolled in Pierce College but didn't take his studies seriously, his mother said.

"I gave him four options," she said. "Get the grades up to go to WSU, go to trade school or flip hamburgers for a living for the rest of your life."

Crate chose his mother's fourth option: military service.

He joined the Air Force and worked in avionics, which he found uninteresting.

He then applied to be a combat controller, an elite airman who sets up airfields and targets airstrikes in enemy territory.

"I said, 'Are you sure? You don't have to do this.' He said, 'I want to do this,' " Linda Crate said. "We were all very proud of him, and he was very proud of himself."

Last Christmas, he presented his mother with a special gift: a new 2005 Honda Civic.

Last Christmas, Casey Crate scooped his mother off her chair, took her outside and plopped her in front of her gift: A brand new Honda Civic. "He said, 'There you go, Mom, you've got a new car. That's from your little Sonny,'" Linda Crate said. "That's what I used to call him, Sonny." Crate, 26, of Spanaway, Wash., was killed May 30 in a crash of his surveillance plane about 80 miles northeast of Baghdad. He was based at Hurlburt Field. Crate was raised by a single mother and was teased by cousins for being such an attentive son when he chopped wood for her to heat the home. He attended Pierce College for two years, but didn't take his studies seriously. "I gave him four options," his mother said. "Get the grades up to go to (Washington State Univesity), go to trade school, or flip hamburgers for a living for the rest of your life." Crate chose his mother's fourth option: military service. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1998, and never regretted it. He was never able to say much about his special-operations work, but his mother heard from commanders after his death. "They told me they used to call him the 'mission hound.' He always took responsibility," she said.

"He was a wonderful son," she said.

Crate had been overseas since February and was set to return home this month, perhaps in time for his 27th birthday June 5.

He was flying aboard a single-engine, prop-driven Comp Air 7SL piloted by an Iraqi Air Force member when it crashed.

According to Air Force Times, the plane, which can hold as many as six people, left Kirkuk Air Base on a mission about 10 a.m.

Two hours later, an Iraqi civilian reported the crash to military authorities.

The plane went down near the village of Jalula, about 80 miles northeast of Baghdad. The aircraft's primary mission is reconnaissance and airlifting personnel, but Linda Crate said the military did not tell her what kind of mission her son was on when he died.

His body will be returned to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware tomorrow, and the family will schedule a memorial at McChord Air Force Base within the next week or so.

Although she never got the chance to say goodbye, she said her son is not far away.

"I had a talk with him today, and he wants me to be strong."

From Scott Rukke 12/25/05: God bless every one of you. You are all American heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we may all live in freedom. May your memories live in all of our hearts forever. To Casey, my beloved nephew: You were so young but in your time you lived a hundred of my lifetimes. You paid the ultimate sacrifice even though you did not even have to work. You had the money and means and could have just sat back and enjoyed life. Instead you fought for your country, for all of us. We're so proud of you. You have changed my life for you are in my thoughts and dreams every day. No longer do I just go about my daily life and not think about the sacrifices that all of you have given. I will never forget that fateful phone call on Memorial Day 2005. The phone call that changed so many of us, especially you Linda. Linda your strength has been an inspiration and an amazing grace. Casey you were an amazing person and I thank god that I had the honor of being your uncle. The pain my sister feels we all feel but then again we talk to you every day and you comfort us with your wisdom. May the skies be blue, the grass green and the water clear forever ....................

        Fallen Airmen Memorialized at Hurlburt

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5/31/2007 -  HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFPN)  -- Members of the 720th Special Tactics Group dedicated a state-of-the-art training center and an adjacent roadway here May 30 in honor of four air commandos killed in the line of duty in recent operations. 

An Iraqi Air Force SL7 light aircraft crashed May 30, 2005, about 80 miles northeast of Baghdad, Iraq, killing Staff Sgt. Casey Crate, Capt. Derek Argel and Capt. Jeremy Fresques.

Maj. Brian Downs from another Hurlburt Field unit, the 6th Special Operations Squadron, and an Iraqi pilot were also killed in that crash.

Special tactics Airmen fast rope from an MH-53 Pave Low to deliver the colors at the dedication of the Crate Special Tactics Advanced Skills Training Center May 30 at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The center was dedicated in honor of Staff Sgt. Casey Crate, a Combat Controller from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron who perished during an operational mission in Iraq in 2005.

Exactly two years after the crash, a team of special tactics operators fast-roped from an MH-53 helicopter with a U.S. flag to hoist above a new training facility that will enshrine the names of their fallen comrades forever.
The $7.8 million, 50,000 square foot Crate Advanced Skills Training Center was formally dedicated to Sergeant Crate. The center's auditorium was dedicated to Captain Fresques and the aquatics facility to Captain Argel.

The street adjacent to the facility was named Servais Way, in honor of Senior Airman Adam Servais who was killed Aug. 19, 2006, while engaged with enemy fighters in southern Afghanistan.

Sue Servais, mother of Senior Airman Adam Servais, a fallen Air Force combat controller, embraces Lt. Col. Eric Ray during a street-naming ceremony May 30 at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Airman Servais' father, Peter, looks on. Airman Servais was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan in August 2006. Colonel Ray is the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron commander.

"It means a lot to us that the street is forever named after Adam," said his mother, Sue Servais of Onalaska, Wis. "When you go through this grief and loss, sometimes you want the world to stop just for you, but everybody's lives go on. This is a way to keep his memory alive."

The keynote speaker for the dedication ceremony was Dr. James G. Roche, the 20th secretary of the Air Force.
"Today is a bittersweet day," he said, addressing a crowd that included several close relatives and surviving spouses of the honored fallen. "We can laugh but we can also have some fond memories, and we can reminisce."

Dr. Roche spoke about the imperative this country is faced with to defend the idea of democracy from those who would seek to destroy it.

Debra Bastain, the mother of Capt. Derek Argel, a fallen Air Force special tactics officer, takes an impromptu dive into the pool at the aquatics training facility dedicated in Captain Argel's memory May 30 at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Captain Argel, who died in the crash of an Iraqi air force aircraft on Memorial Day 2005, was captain of the water polo team while a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

"The Advanced Skills Training Center is an investment this country has made and I have no qualm in pointing out it is an investment in democracy, because the first of those who wish to harm us will feel the brunt of those who are trained here," he said.
Sergeant Crate, Airman Servais and Captains Argel and Fresques were among the first graduates of the relatively new concept of training called Advanced Skills Training.
The AST concept was born of necessity when the special tactics career fields were experiencing severe manning shortages and training deficiencies in 1999, said Col. Marc Stratton, the 720th STG commander.

Lindsey Fresques (left) and Linda Crate reflect after cutting the ribbon dedicating the Crate Special Tactics Advanced Skills Training Center May 30 at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Ms. Crate's son, Staff Sgt. Casey Crate, and Ms. Fresques' husband, Capt. Jeremy Fresques, were special tactics Airmen who died in Iraq on Memorial Day 2005. They are escorted by Staff Sgt. Jason Payne, a special tactics advanced skills instructor. The center will provide advanced operational training to new special tactics Airmen.

"That year our pipeline graduated seven combat controllers. Manning at operational units was at 40 percent. The influx of new personnel was not keeping pace with those retiring or separating. Those entering the pipeline had an eight percent success rate," Colonel Stratton said. "In short, the career fields were in a death spiral."

Leadership in the special tactics community took immediate action to address the manpower shortage and brought their suggested changes to Air Force officials. Senior Air Force leaders, especially Dr. Roche, agreed and made special tactics a high priority. 

The new year-long finishing school initially faced obstinate organizational resistance, Colonel Stratton said. Critics were silenced when AST graduates were thrust immediately into combat following the Sept. 11 attacks and battlefield commanders praised their performance.
The results were also felt in other ways. Manning at operational units began to climb and lessons learned from combat were immediately incorporated into training plans without being scrutinized in months of meetings and staff coordination, Colonel Stratton said.

The Crate Advanced Skills Training Center is expected to continue to improve the process of filling the ranks of special tactics squadrons with superbly trained Battlefield Airmen.

Cadre and mentors expect to broaden the minds of young special tactics operators in the Fresques Auditorium and push the limits of their physical endurance as they run on Servais Way and train in the Argel Aquatics Center.

  Click Here to view a slide show of Casey and Adam Servais in training to be Combat Control

The 720th Special Tactics Group was tasked with conducting a Helicopter Landing Zone survey at the Pentagon.  TSgt Kenneth Huhman and myself (MSgt Michael Stockdale) were sent to conduct the survey.  We were both instructors of Casey's during his year at Advanced Skills Training where he graduated from AST Team 10 along with Adam Servais.  The HLZ will be utilized for the unveiling of the Air Force Memorial structure located in the nation's capital.  Just after conducting the survey Ken and myself took the Metro to Arlington where we visited John Chapman, Scott Sather, Derek Argel, Jeremy Fresques, and Casey.  As we were visiting Ken Huhman brought up the idea that how fitting it would be to name the HLZ utilized for Air Force rotary wing aircraft during an Air Force Memorial dedication after one of our fallen brothers.  We decided to name it Crate HLZ in honor of Casey. We truly had complete joy training him and benefited from his infectious great personality.

 Linda we love you and you are in our prayers,

 Take care, Mike

Building Dedication Honors Fallen Warrior
5/8/2009 - Lt. Col. Brett Nelson, 23rd Special Tactics Squadron commander, receives a flag from Staff Sgt. Theresa Wilson, Supply Technician, 1st Expeditionary Special Operations Maintenance Squadron, at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, May 1.

 The flag was lowered during a building dedication ceremony for Staff Sgt. Casey Crate, a Combat Controller who was killed on May 30, 2005, in central Iraq. The flag was folded by members of the 1st Special Operations Maintenance Squadron.

 The flag will be flown back to the United States and given to Sergeant Crate's mother, Linda.

               A Very Special Cigar………
Mac, Deb was given a Romeo Y Julieta cigar from Linda Crate while at Tim Davis' Memorial Service.  The cigar was Casey's, and Linda insisted on sending it home for me.  I wrote on the case, "do not open until Memorial Day."  This way, no one else would smoke it when I offered a cigar.  Tonight I opened a four year old, sent home with Casey's belongings.

Linda, I smoked it tonight in honor of Casey.  The ash was perfect.  I'll always cherish the cigar case and Casey's memory…………. Todd

Deb Argel-Bastian, Proud
  mom of Capt. Derek Argel,
Deployed to Heaven on Memorial Day, 2005