“He made our family shine,” the 31-year-old soldier’s mother, Susan Scialdo, said Friday. “He lifted us all. He was just an awesome individual. Always helpful, always shining.”
Now Scialdo’s family in Naples, Fla., and those of the soldiers he flew with are grieving, along with the fellow aviators who trained and served beside them at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah. Five soldiers, including Scialdo, died Monday when their UH-60 Black Hawk crashed, making it the deadliest day so far this year for U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan.
While his mother confirmed Scialdo was killed in the crash, the Army by Friday afternoon still had not released names of the soldiers who died. Maj. Gen. Robert A. Abrams, commanding general for Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, said Wednesday from Afghanistan the crew was flying a routine training mission using night-vision goggles. No enemy attacks were reported, but the cause of the crash was still being investigated.
The deaths stunned Army soldiers and families of the 3rd Infantry Division in southeast Georgia, and the fatalities didn’t end with the Black Hawk crash. The Army identified Fort Stewart-based Staff Sgt. Rex L. Schad, 26, of Edmond, Okla., as one of two U.S. soldiers killed Monday in what Afghan officials said was a machine gun attack by one of their own policemen. Another Fort Stewart soldier, 26-year-old Spc. David T. Proctor of Greensboro, N.C., died Wednesday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center from noncombat injuries he suffered in Afghanistan 10 days earlier.
“The impact is devastating with so many of them,” said Capt. Romeo Axalan, an Army chaplain who has been helping counsel family members and colleagues of the helicopter crew.
Posting on Twitter from Afghanistan, where he’s serving as an allied regional commander based in Kandahar, Abrams said about 1,000 deployed soldiers in the Black Hawk crew’s unit — the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade — gathered Friday for a memorial ceremony. The general said the mourning soldiers “spoke from the heart.”
“This crew was made up of America’s finest who made everyone around them better and always brought a smile to people’s faces,” Abrams said via Twitter.
About 8,500 of Abram’s soldiers from the 3rd Infantry in Georgia are serving in Afghanistan. They include about 2,200 troops from the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, which flies Black Hawks and other attack helicopters. The unit has deployed overseas five times since 2003 — three times to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.
Caskets bearing the five soldiers killed in the helicopter crash arrived Thursday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Scialdo’s wife, father and brother were all there, his mother said in a phone interview. She stayed home in Naples, where she said American flags across the city were lowered to half-staff..
Susan Scialdo said her son joined the Army after college and was driven to enlist in part by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He jumped at an opportunity to work aboard helicopters, she said, and found that he loved flying.
Scialdo’s mother said the whole family swelled with pride when he deployed to Iraq on his 25th birthday. When his unit departed for a nine-month tour in Afghanistan in December, it was his second time deploying to war.
The Army notified the Scialdo family of his death late Monday, Susan Scialdo said. The shock was compounded by the fact that the soldier’s 93-year-old grandfather had died just two days earlier.
“We’re going to hold it together for Marc because we knew that’s what he’d want us to do,” Susan Scialdo said. “We are going to do whatever it takes to make Marc proud, because he made us proud.”
Hunter Army Airfield spokesman Steve Hart said commanders plan a ceremony April 18 to honor all seven soldiers who died this week at Warriors Walk, the living memorial at Fort Stewart to its soldiers who have died in the past decade of wartime. The memorial’s sidewalks are lined with eastern redbud trees, one planted for each fallen soldier who served with the 3rd Infantry.
The latest deaths will bring the total number of memorial trees to 452.