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'Always our protector': Working out memories of a fallen Airman

U.S. Air Force 2nd LT Noel Carroll, Flight Nurse, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Sq., has a morning routine of working out at a fitness center named after her brother, USAF SSgt Timothy Davis, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 31, 2012. The fitness center, called "The Rock", displays a memorial for her brother, who in 2009 was killed in action after an improvised explosive device (IED) struck his convoy. Davis was a Combat Controller.  

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Clay Lancaster/Not Released)

Second Lt. Noel Carroll poses in front of a fitness center named after her brother, Staff Sgt. Timothy Davis, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 31, 2012. The fitness center, called "The Rock," displays a memorial for her brother, who was killed in action after an improvised explosive device struck his convoy in 2009. Carroll is a flight nurse with the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Clay Lancaster)

U.S. Air Force 2nd LT Noel Carroll, Flight Nurse, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Sq., works out at a fitness center named after her brother, USAF SSgt Timothy Davis, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 31, 2012. The fitness center, called "The Rock", displays a memorial for her brother, who in 2009 was killed in action after an improvised explosive device (IED) struck his convoy. Davis was a Combat Controller.  

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Clay Lancaster/Not Released)

Second Lt. Noel Carroll works out at a fitness center named after her brother, Staff Sgt. Timothy Davis, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 31, 2012. Davis, who was a combat controller, was killed in action after an improvised explosive device struck his convoy in 2009. Carroll is a flight nurse with the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Clay Lancaster)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- What does the word "gym" mean to you? Does it mean the blood, sweat and tears of weight training and cardio to get in tip-top shape? Does it symbolize a place where your buddies meet to blow off steam?

To 1st Lt. Noel Carroll, it is a place where she feels at home. It is a place where she goes to feel her brother's presence and know that a gym to him meant sculpting the perfect machine and hanging out with his "bros." You see, her gym is named after her brother, Tim Davis, who died in Afghanistan in 2009.

Staff Sgt. Tim Davis was a combat controller, one of the most highly trained special operations forces in the U.S. military. He was on his second deployment when he lost his life to a roadside bomb leaving behind his wife and one-year-old son.

"When we lost Tim, I was an (emergency room) nurse working in Seattle," said Carroll, who is just one and a half years younger than Tim. "I knew immediately I wanted to go overseas and take care of wounded soldiers. When I heard about flight nursing and flying the wounded soldiers home, I knew that was what I wanted to do, so I signed up for the Air Force."

Today, Carroll is an aeromedical evacuation flight nurse stationed at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Her office is a flying hospital aboard a C-17 Globemaster III, C-130 Hercules or KC-135 Stratotanker. On a daily basis, she flies throughout Afghanistan picking up wounded troops and doing her best to ensure they make it back safe and sound to Craig Hospital at Bagram Airfield for better medical care.

And just like Carroll, who takes care of the wounded, a combat controller is also a protector. Their motto, "First There," reaffirms the combat controller's commitment to undertaking the most dangerous missions behind enemy lines by leading the way for other forces to follow.

One of Davis' closest friends and teammates, Master Sgt. Ken Huhman, said Tim lived by that motto.

"He was an incredible teammate who always put others before himself without any complaints," said Huhman. "There are many things that make up a CCT, but one of the most important things is the team mentality, one's willingness to put others before themselves."

A combat controller is not for the faint of heart, but Davis' former commander Col. Brett Nelson said if you want to be a combat controller, be a combat controller like Tim: loyal, physically strong, mentally tough, disciplined and never satisfied with good-enough.

"They have a strong sense of right and wrong," said Carroll. "They are naturally competitive, strong-willed and willing to take risks. They are silent heroes, not ones to boast or brag. They are willing to lay down their lives for their loved ones ... And that's just what Tim was and just what Tim did. I am truly thankful for his service and for laying down his life for his family and country. I am so proud of all his accomplishments; he definitely left his mark in this world and in people's hearts."

It was no surprise to anyone in Davis' family that he became a combat controller.

"Tim's nature was one of protecting, even as a young boy," said Tim's dad, Mike Davis. "All his life he befriended the underdog, helped them fit in and achieve."

Nelson said there was a lot that was special about Tim, but his informal leadership founded through personal discipline is what he remembers the most, along with Tim's very competitive nature.

"This competitive nature was really just a manifestation of his personal discipline -- if someone performed a task better than he, he recognized a personal responsibility to be better and set out to do just that," said Nelson. "His leadership excellence resulted from this great personal discipline coupled with a quiet, confident nature that was encouraging, not intimidating."

Along with that discipline, Huhman said fitness is a critical part of being a combat controller.

"High level of fitness is required to be successful," said Huhman. "Due to the rigorous physical demands, fitness is essential to not only success, but your survival and the safety and survival of your team."

This fitness and discipline is what earned Davis his nickname, "The Rock," said Carroll. And it is very fitting that the gym at Bagram Airfield carries this nickname because her brother loved to workout.

"I remember one of his friends saying Tim was the only one he could get to run the stairs with him carrying five gallon buckets in each hand filled with sand," Davis' dad said. "If Tim had left us instructions, I think he would have said, 'If you guys have to put my name on something after I'm gone, don't put it on a lake or a rock or a field ... put it on a gym.'"

The elder Davis said he will forever be proud of his son's service and all he accomplished.

"He performed and took responsibility beyond his rank," he said. "He was a natural born leader who was recognized by those he served with and those who served over him."

Carroll said she enjoys working out at The Rock and remembering her brother.

"When I look over and see his memorial and the pic of his smiling face, it often makes me sadder than anything else," said Carroll. "I miss him so much and wish he could be here with me. I wish we could work out together and run together and reminisce about our childhood. At the same time, it does make me work out harder. I know he's proud of me and I know he's protecting me ... Even from afar, he will always be our protector."