Luke community rallies to support downed pilot's family

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. John Paradis
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
A Luke AFB pilot killed in action Nov. 27 in Iraq was remembered by Air Force leaders and friends as a warrior-patriot who made a difference in everything he did in a ceremony Dec. 6 here.

Maj. Troy L. Gilbert's F-16 Fighting Falcon crashed while flying a combat mission in support of ground forces in Anbar Province, 20 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Major Gilbert was deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq, in September from the 309th Fighter Squadron at Luke AFB.

"The 56th Fighter Wing extends its heartfelt condolences to the Gilbert family for such a heavy loss," said Brig. Gen. Noel T. Jones, the 56th Fighter Wing commander. "This news and the deep sense of sorrow we feel here should serve as a reminder to Americans about the sacrifice borne by the men and women of our armed forces. Major Gilbert will be remembered here as a patriot, warrior and a proud American who volunteered to serve in his nation's Air Force."

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

The pilot's death has reverberated throughout the Air Force's F-16 community. The major was the first F-16 pilot to die in Iraq since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

"Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Gilbert family as they grieve the loss of a husband, father, son, son-in-law and Air Force warrior-patriot," said Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, the top U.S. Air Force commander in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters.

Major Gilbert, who finished undergraduate pilot training in 2001, was deployed to the 332nd Expeditionary Wing at Balad AB and logged more than 130 combat hours, Air Force officials said. The major had been assigned to Luke AFB since 2004 and was assistant director of operations, executive officer of wing flying, a flight commander and chief of training.

A friend who flew with the major at Aviano AB in Italy said the major was the best leader he had ever seen.

"The Air Force has lost a great leader and officer who was destined for greatness," said Capt. Bart Wilbanks, a flight commander at Hill AFB's 34th Fighter Squadron in Utah. "His family is going to miss a Dad, a husband and we are going to miss a good friend ... we don't know what happened yet, but Troy would do what it took to save other lives."

At Luke AFB, members of the 309th FS and Major Gilbert's former Luke AFB squadron, the 62nd Fighter Squadron, rallied around to support the major's family -- a wife and five children.
"If there was one pilot you would build a squadron around, he was Troy Gilbert," said Lt. Col. Pete Davey, commander of the 309th FS. "The best way we can honor such a great man is to now support his family."

Family members said the major was a man who always knew what he wanted. He wanted to be a pilot; he also wanted to travel and he wanted a family. They said he was a man of strong faith, a great father and leader. A memorial fund established by Luke AFB's community support organization, Fighter Country Partnership, will help the family.

"Major Troy Gilbert's family has been overwhelmed by the prayers and support received from the Air Force community and friends from across the world. Words cannot express our true measure of gratitude," said a statement read to Phoenix-area news media Dec. 3. "The efforts of the Fighter Country Partnership and other community groups in Arizona and other locations toward establishing the Gilbert Family Memorial Fund; the outpouring of messages; and the generosity of the Luke AFB team has been simply tremendous. While the loss of Troy has been devastating to us, we should not fail to pray for those who are still involved in the unsafe conditions in Iraq and in other parts of the world where the lives of our brave military are in danger."

People interested in making a tax deductible donation to assist the Gilbert family may write a check to "The Gilbert Family" and drop the check off at any Credit Union West Branch or mail it to Fighter Country Partnership at 500 North Estrella Parkway, Suite B-2, PMB#479, Goodyear, Ariz., 85338. For more information, contact Steve Yamamori, FCP executive director, at (602) 369-3531.

"Troy was not only a comrade but was a friend to many," said General Jones. "He served with courage and commitment and believed in duty, honor and country. He will be sorely missed by those privileged to serve with him. The Gilberts will always be part of the Air Force family, and Luke Air Force Base will always be their home."

(Courtesy Air Education and Training Command News Service)

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