Arlington National Cemetery was the site for Friday's emotional tribute to a Pope airman killed in combat in Iraq.
Staff Sergeant Scott Sather was killed two weeks ago in Iraq – the first airman killed in the war. The 29-year-old Michigan native earned seven medals, including the bronze star, during his Air Force career.
“Scott's a great American,” said Major Robert Armfield. “He was a hard-charging guy. He wanted to be the best at what he did, and that's why he became an Air Force combat controller.”
Combat controllers are an elite group of fighters who lead allied aircraft to enemy targets. There are only about 300 controllers, a group that had not suffered a war casualty until last year.
Chaplain Mark Thomas, a Sampson County native grew up near the base, works with the controllers. He also conducted Friday's service.
“What I try to do is focus on the fact of their faith,” Thomas said. “I try to help them out with hope.”
Thomas said burial services like Friday's are never easy for anyone.
Chaplain Mark Thomas said services like Friday's are always emotional and that his job is to offer hope for the future.
“Seeing children and young brides,” he said, “knowing they paid such a sacrifice for our freedoms.”
A fellow controller said two deaths in the unit in just more than a year is tough to take.
“All you can think about is what you are in the military for and what you are doing,” said Tech Sgt. Westley Brooks, “and that's defending the freedoms we all have.”
Thomas' job is to offer hope for the future, even when it seems impossible to reach.
“It's rewarding, in a sense,” he said, “knowing we've been able to establish some hope with them that tomorrow will come, and they'll be able to walk through this.”
26 April 2003:
Courtesy of The Washington Post
The first specks of scarlet at the graveside of Staff Sergeant Scott D. Sather were isolated, nearly lost in the mass of civilians in dark mourning clothes. Then, after everyone else had settled in, the slim men in blue uniforms and dark red berets approached by the dozens, forming a ring of color around the outside of the crowd.
Sather, an Air Force Combat Air Controller, was killed in Iraq on April 8, 2003. Yesterday he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery surrounded by service members wearing berets, the symbols of their elite status. In addition to the scarlet worn by his fellow airmen, there were tan berets on Army Rangers and at least one Army Green Beret in the crowd.
Sather, 29, a native of Clio, Michigan, joined the Air Force in 1992. He soon began training to be a Combat Air Controller, one of a unit of about 300 who work on the ground near or ahead of front-line combat troops and guide attack planes to nearby targets.
These airmen, whose slogan is “First There,” are trained in parachuting, scuba diving and combat survival as well as air traffic control. Retired Staff Sergeant Mike Naylor, who served with Sather in Bosnia, said Sather was drawn to the extreme aspects of the job.
“He wanted to skydive. He wanted to scuba dive. He wanted to be a cowboy,” Naylor said after the funeral. “I mean, he wanted to be right up front.”
Naylor said Sather, an outstanding athlete in high school, was a fierce competitor. While assigned to Bosnia, Naylor said, their unit was kept on alert and could not stray more than a few minutes from its planes. To pass the time, Naylor said, they would engage in highly competitive games of Ultimate Frisbee.
Sather “was fanatical about it. He didn't want to lose,” Naylor said. “Everything that he did was that intense.”
There were also lighthearted moments during those long periods of alert: Naylor said that Sather played practical jokes on another airman named Eggers, hiding eggs in his boots, then slipping away.
“Eggers never found out who was doing it,” Naylor said.
Sather's service yesterday was the last of a week in which seven casualties of the Iraq war were buried at Arlington. Fifteen have been laid to rest there since April 10. Sather's coffin was positioned in a row of fresh graves at the edge of a field that does not yet have headstones.
Sather was stationed at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina and married last year, according to published reports. His widow, Melanie, sat with his parents, Karin Craft and Rod Sather, at the grave site.
The service began with a flyover by A-10 attack jets. After remarks by a chaplain, flags were presented to his wife and parents.
At the conclusion, other combat controllers — in distinctive headgear and uniforms, their dress pants stuffed into combat boots — walked forward, set a coin commemorating their unit on the coffin and saluted.
Major John Koren, a retired Air Force officer who once was Sather's commander, said afterward that the handsome, capable airman stood out even among his elite colleagues.
“When they asked me to put people on tough missions, he was first on my list,” Koren said, adding that he could think of no higher praise for a soldier.
“He represented America,” Koren said. “He represented you and I. You can't ask for anything better than that.”
The harsh reality of war hit home last week when the husband of a former Sylva woman died during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Staff Sergeant Scott Sather, 29, of the U.S. Air Force, was shot to death on April 8 in southern Baghdad.
His wife was the former Melanie Mull, a 1986 graduate of Sylva-Webster High School. She is the daughter of Linda Mull of Sylva and the late Jim Mull.
A memorial service was held Tuesday at Pope Air Base, where Sather was stationed as a combat controller with the 24th Special Tactics Squadron of the 720th Special Tactics Group, which is home-based at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
Another memorial service is planned in his hometown of Clio, Michigan, with burial to be in Arlington National Cemetery.
“He was a very dedicated and loyal combat controller,” said Cassandra Collins Mayer of Greensboro, formerly of Jackson County and Melanie Sather's longtime friend. “He was just incredible. As a husband, he was a great person. I don't have enough good things to say about him. He loved Melanie with all his heart.”
The couple was married during a July ceremony in Jamaica. Mayer said they had recently bought a house in Fayetteville and were talking about starting a family.
Scott Sather spent some time in Sylva during December following the death of his father-in-law, Mayer said.
Sather had been deployed for five weeks at the time of his death, and his wife had not heard from him since he left the United States, according to Mayer.
Sather served in Afganhistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom and received the Bronze Star Medal. He also had earned four Air Force combat medals, an Air Medal and a Joint Service Medal, according to officials at Hurlburt Field.
Staff Sergeant Scott D. Sather
June 21, 1973 to April 8, 2003
Staff Sergeant Scott. D. Sather, assigned to the 24th Special Tactics Squadron was killed in action April 8, 2003, in Iraq.
Sather was a Combat Controller and was 29 years old.
“I offer my condolences to Sergeant Sather’s family, friends and teammates,” said Lieutenant General Paul V. Hester, the Commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. “His ultimate sacrifice for our great nation is a constant reminder of the service and dedication of the men and women in uniform to a cherished principle — freedom.”
Sather was from Clio, Michigan, He joined the Air Force in 1992 and had been stationed at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, since 1999. His previous assignments include special tactics squadrons at McChord AFB, Wash.; Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England; and RAF Alconbury, England.
(Courtesy of Air Force Special Operations Command News Service)
The casket of Staff Sergeant Scott D. Sather arrives at the gravesite at Arlington
National Cemetery in Washington, April 25, 2003. Sergeant Sather was killed April
8, 2003, in combat in Iraq
Danielle Harris, 3, a cousin of Air Force Staff Sgt. Scott D. Sather, watches a flag being folded
above his coffin at Arlington National Cemetery
Danielle Harris, 3, cousin of Air Force Staff Sergeant Scott D. Sather, from Clio,
Michigan, covers her ears during the firing party's three round volley at
Sather's funeral at Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington Friday,
April 25, 2003. Sather, a combat controller with the 24th Special Tactics Squadron
at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, was the Air Force's first combat
casualty when he was killed in action in Iraq
Three-year-old Danielle Harris, in blue dress at right, cousin of Air Force
Staff Sergeant. Scott D. Sather, continues to cover her ears after the firing party
fired three volleys of seven during Sather's funeral at Arlington National Cemetery
outside of Washington Friday, April 25, 2003.
Air Force Lieutenant General Paul V. Hester, left, presents the flag to Melanie Sather,
right, wife of Air Force Staff Sergeant Scott D. Sather, from Clio, Michigan, during
his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington Friday, April
25, 2003. The woman at far right is Karin Craft, Sergeant Sather's mother.
April 9, 2003
DOD IDENTIFIES AIR FORCE CASUALTY
The Department of Defense announced today that Staff Sergeant Scott D. Sather, 29, of Clio, Michigan, was killed in action Tuesday, 8 April 2003, in Iraq.
Sergeant Sather was assigned to the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina.
I went to a funeral today. I said good bye to a friend today. I watched his casket be carried – covered in red, white, and blue. I looked up at the sky and wanted to blame you. Why on earth would God let this happen? Why would he take someone so gracious and loving?
But as I listened to the sermon today, and listened to the Reverend so calmly say, Scott was loved by us and by God. It doesn't only hurt our hearts to see him gone. God doesn't want to see us hurt – God wants peace and justice on earth. Scott was a fighter, a man with a heart of gold. With will and strength he took on this cause so bold. We may not have been able to say goodbye to him in the ways we would have chose, but God has a purpose all of his own.
Scott will be missed, many tears will fall. Many days lie ahead of wonderance, disbelief and awe. But whether we want to believe or not – God was there upon the death of dear Scott. For it was God's voice Scott heard that fatal morning calling. A soldier, full of bravery, death stricken and falling.
My emotions are mixed with anger and sadness. My heart is torn and hurts for gladness. I looked at his mother, father, and siblings. His wife, now a young widow – mere thoughts of children she will never be bearing. How I'd love to tell them all, everthing will be okay….in my heart, I know, grief can only heal….day..by day.
IN MEMORY OF STAFF SGT SCOTT D SATHER.
May you hold him close in mind like we do close in heart.
We love you Scotty!
God Speed & God Bless you all
SATHER, SCOTT D
- SSGT US AIR FORCE
- DATE OF BIRTH: 06/21/1973
- DATE OF DEATH: 04/08/2003
- BURIED AT: SECTION 60 SITE 7875
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Read our general and most popular articles
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard