Two helicopter crash victims from Schofield named
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
The Pentagon has identified the two Schofield Barracks soldiers killed or missing in the crash of a CH-47 helicopter in Afghanistan on Wednesday as Master Sgt. Edwin A. Matoscolon, 42, of Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico; and Sgt. Maj. Barbaralien Banks, 41, of Harvey, La.
Sgt. Maj. Barbaralien Banks
Master Sgt. Edwin A. Matoscolon
The veteran soldiers were members of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, Division Artillery, 25th Infantry Division (Light).
Matoscolon, listed as having died in the crash in Ghazni province in the southern Afghan desert, was a mechanical maintenance supervisor who entered the Army in March 1984. He was assigned to Schofield Barracks in April 2004.
Banks was unaccounted for after the crash and is listed as "duty status whereabouts unknown," although there were no survivors. The senior food-management supervisor entered the Army in March of 1988, and was assigned to Schofield Barracks in May 2003.
Maj. Dewey A. Mosley, Division Artillery supply officer and Banks' and Matoscolon's commanding officer, said the two soldiers "were without a doubt the backbone of everything we did. They were like my left hand and my right hand."
Mosley said the pain of their loss is indescribable.
"Not really even so much because of the job, or the mission," Mosley said by phone last night from Forward Operating Base Salerno near the Pakistan border, "but more so because they were our friends. They were two of the most wonderful people you'd ever want to meet."
Banks "was a woman of great faith," and her Bible always was within arm's reach.
The food, water and sustainment supervisor was a sergeant major, but she never had to raise her voice "because she had that level of respect from those around her," Mosley said.
She was married and had a son, Kent, who was about 19.
"She was real proud of him," Mosley said. "He had just graduated from high school, and was choosing between going to college or the military."
Banks would work out in the gym twice a day, and have bench-press contests with Matoscolon, who Mosley said was a big guy and Vin Diesel lookalike especially when he wore goggles.
"We used to do calculations to see if, pound for pound, she was stronger than he was on bench press," Mosley said. "And she was getting there, so we'd always give Sergeant Matoscolon a hard time."
Pair volunteered to go
Matoscolon, who was in Operation Desert Storm with the 82nd Airborne Division, "was just strong and his heart was just as big as his stature," Mosley said. "He would take on any mission."
Staff Sgt. Bradley Rhen U.S. Army
Maj. Dewey Mosley renders a final salute to Master Sgt. Edwin Matoscolon and Sgt. Maj. Barbaralien Banks, during a memorial service in Afghanistan. Mosley was the two soldiers' commanding officer.
Staff Sgt. Bradley Rhen U.S. Army
"All of the soldiers that knew him, wanted to be like him," Mosley said.
The pair had volunteered to go to some forward operating bases in Paktika province Banks to take care of food-related issues, and Matoscolon to see about some engines.
"They went down there to help do what they've always done," said Mosley, who was going to go with them, but was called down to FOB Salerno from Bagram instead.
"To lose them, you can't make up for that caliber of noncommissioned officer and person just the knowledge and expertise they had," Mosley said.
Headquarters and Headquarters Battery and Division Artillery has its base of operations at FOB Salerno as part of Task Force Thunder. Both soldiers were out of Bagram.
At the service at FOB Salerno, where the two soldiers' desert boots were placed beneath upturned M-16s topped by their helmets, nearly 200 service members turned out for the memorial in the small chapel.
"You couldn't fit them all in the church," Mosley said.
"It's a shock to everybody, but at the same time, it was their time," Mosley said. "When they passed, they passed away doing their duty, and anyone who knows them knows that's what they were all about."
Weather likely cause
Neither soldier has any family in Hawai'i, the 25th Division said.
The death total from last week's fiery crash rose to 18 after searchers found the remains of two more Americans in the wreckage Saturday. It was the deadliest helicopter crash for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
The big, twin-rotor Chinook helicopter crashed as it returned to Bagram Air Base from a mission to deliver mail and supplies and transport personnel in the insurgency-plagued south. The charred wreckage was found in an area of desert near a cluster of brick kilns.
Officials reported no sign of enemy fire and suggested bad visibility and strong winds may have caused the crash about 80 miles southwest of Kabul. A second Chinook made it back safely.
The Pentagon yesterday identified 14 of 15 U.S. soldiers on the helicopter, which also was carrying three U.S. government contractors believed to be Halliburton employees working for subsidiary KBR.
In addition to the two Hawai'i soldiers, four soldiers were based out of Italy, five were out of Germany, two were National Guard soldiers out of South Carolina and one was an Army Reservist out of Massachusetts.
Initially, concern was raised that the Chinook that went down was part of Company B, 214th Aviation Regiment out of Wheeler Army Airfield, but Schofield officials said Company B and its parent unit, the 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, had returned from Afghanistan "in its entirety."
Army and Marine helicopters provide the bulk of the U.S. military's long-distance troop transport in mountainous southeast Afghanistan, where roads are practically nonexistent.
The crash of a CH-47 Chinook in western Iraq on Jan. 26, also in bad weather, claimed the lives of 31 Marines and sailors, including 27 from Hawai'i.
2,500 yet to return
Accidents have proven almost as deadly in Afghanistan as attacks from Taliban-led insurgents, including a string of helicopter crashes and explosions caused by mines and munitions left over from the country's long wars.
The two Schofield deaths last week are the 14th and 15th for the 25th Division in Afghanistan. Thirteen Schofield soldiers, and 46 Marines and sailors with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment out of Hawai'i have been killed in Iraq.
About 75 percent of the approximately 11,000 Schofield soldiers who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan early last year are back. More than 2,500 soldiers are still deployed, most to Afghanistan.
The U.S. military said over the weekend that the remains of 18 people who died in Wednesday's helicopter crash had been taken to Bagram Air Base, and would be flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for positive identification.
An investigation into the crash is being conducted by a team from the Army's Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Ala.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach William Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-5459.