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Airmen mourn loss of downed helicopter crew member

Coalition Special Operations Forces pararescuemen lower a stretcher during a medical evacuation in Nuristan province, Afghanistan, April 13, 2012.  Afghan National Army commandos and Coalition SOF, the first to visit that area in more than two years, defeated enemy forces threatening to overrun a village.  Commando-led missions provide national security by encouraging local villagers to look to government forces for support rather than insurgents. (U.S. Navy photo/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Clay Weis)

Coalition Special Operations Forces pararescuemen lower a stretcher during a medical evacuation in Nuristan province, Afghanistan, April 13, 2012. Afghan National Army commandos and Coalition SOF, the first to visit that area in more than two years, defeated enemy forces threatening to overrun a village. Commando-led missions provide national security by encouraging local villagers to look to government forces for support rather than insurgents. (U.S. Navy photo/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Clay Weis)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Mark Smith, 33rd Rescue Squadron, receives the Air Force Commendation Medal from Brig. Gen. Matthew Molloy, 18th Wing commander, at the 33rd RQS auditorium on Kadena Air Base, Japan, June 20, 2012. Smith was among seven 33rd RQS Airmen presented medals for various achievements including deployment actions in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Justin Veazie)

Then-Staff Sgt. Mark Smith is pictured receiving the Air Force Commendation Medal from Brig. Gen. Matt Molloy, then 18th Wing commander, on Kadena Air Base, Japan, June 20, 2012. Smith, a 33rd Rescue Squadron flight engineer, died when the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter he was flying in went down during a training mission Aug. 5, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Justin Veazie)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) --

Officials confirmed the death of a technical sergeant assigned to the 33rd Rescue Squadron here Aug. 10 following the Aug. 5 crash of a helicopter in the Central Training Area, Okinawa.

Tech. Sgt. Mark A. Smith, a 33rd RQS flight engineer, died when the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter he was flying in went down during a training mission. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

"Smitty was a total professional and true warrior," said Lt. Col. Pedro Ortiz, the 33rd RQS commander. "He led by example and was wise beyond his young age of 30. In combat or out, I am proud to call him my brother."

Smith, originally from Bakersfield, Calif., joined the Air Force on July 5, 2000, after graduating high school.

"He was a quiet guy outside the aircraft, but in the aircraft, a totally different person," Ortiz said. "In the aircraft, he was blunt and told you how it was. I loved that. His ever-present drive was to make you better and to take care of everyone in combat."

During Smith's 13 years of service, he advanced as a structural maintenance specialist before entering flight engineer upgrade training in 2008. Since arriving here in the fall of 2011, Smith deployed twice to Afghanistan with the 33rd RQS, where he participated in numerous missions to save the lives of service members on the ground.

"One that stands out is the rescue of a commando in the Kamdesh," Ortiz said. "They were under fire by rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns. Smitty was rock solid with his hoist despite the imminent and close threats."

During this rescue, a photo was taken by a combat photographer who was nearby in an overwatch position, Ortiz said. The photo has since gone viral in the rescue community. Upon returning from this deployment, Smith was presented the Air Force Commendation Medal by then-18th Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Matt Molloy in a ceremony here.

Off the battlefield, Smith is remembered as a caring father, mentor and friend.

"Smitty was a mentor to all the young Airmen and pilots; he was a father figure to those that didn't have one," Ortiz said. "He and his wife took care of those in need. They always had lots of single Airmen over to his house."

He is survived by his wife, Jessica, also from Bakersfield. The couple has two daughters.

"Team Kadena has lost a hero," said Brig. Gen. James Hecker, the 18th Wing commander. "Our hearts are with Smitty's family, friends and loved ones. We all suffer through the loss of one of our precious own."

The other three crew members involved in the mishap were rescued by emergency responders and received medical care at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa.

Here in Japan, the 33rd Rescue Squadron is most recently known for its role in providing disaster relief and search and rescue functions during Operation Tomodachi following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated mainland Japan.

The Pave Hawk's primary mission is to conduct day or night personnel recovery operations. It also supports civil search and rescue, medical evacuation, disaster response and humanitarian assistance.

More details will be released as they become available.

(Courtesy of 18th Wing Public Affairs)

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