AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq -- Marines, Sailors and Soldiers gathered to pay homage to Capt. Gregory Ratzlaff, pilot, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), I Marine Expeditionary Force, and Staff Sgt. Sean Howard, crew chief, also with HMM-166.
Ratzlaff, 36, an Olympia, Wash. native, died Aug. 3 during a non-combat related incident at a forward operating base in Iraq.
Howard was killed Aug. 12, in a CH-53E crash near Al Najaf. Also killed in the crash was Lance Cpl. Tavon Hubbard, a Postal clerk, who was assigned to the Command Element, 11th MEU, I MEF.
Capt. Bryan Forney, a fellow ‘Grey Elk’ pilot, spoke of Ratzlaff as a “consummate professional.”
“Greg loved his Marines and what the Corps stands for… but above all, Greg loved his family,” said Forney. “His devotion to his family was absolute – to his wife, Mary, and his son, Drew, who was the very center of his life.”
Capt. Jeffrey Olesko, also an HMM-166 pilot, echoed that sentiment. “When I am a father, I wish to be half the father that Greg was to Drew.”
Lt. Col. Will Guthrie, commanding officer, HMM-166 (Rein) said, “These men were more than just Marines … they were our friends. They were sons, husbands, fathers … I am personally grateful I had the opportunity to know and serve with these men.”
Howard is survived by his wife, Amie, and children, Kaitlynn and Sean.
Sgt. Joel Diehl, fellow squadron-mate, read a message from Howard’s wife.
Choking with emotion he read, “If I only lived until tomorrow, I would have lived fully because I’ve loved you …The war is over for you my love, you are a hero. …”