|From The Los Angeles Times latimes.com
Army Sgt. Richard Essex killed in Afghanistan
Sgt. Richard Essex got close to his dream of flying a helicopter by becoming a gunner on the aircraft.
November 11, 2012|By Marisa Gerber, Los Angeles Times
After a fellow soldier died, Army Sgt. Richard Essex watched his friend's family agonize over funeral details. He vowed to never let the same thing happen to his family.
So while he was home for his sister's wedding last October, the Kelseyville, Calif., native gave his family some specifics. If anything happened to him, he didn't want to burden them with decisions.
His car should go to his older brother and his guitar to a friend who wrote music. He made his family promise that the procession would pass in front of Kelseyville High School, from which he graduated in 2008.
When he was growing up, his tongue tangled his words and the charming, blue-eyed boy got most everything he needed with a point and a grunt.
Essex didn't say much, but he knew what he wanted. He wanted to join the Army and fly helicopters.
He achieved his first goal a couple of days out of high school, when he enlisted in the Army. But his eyes — one nearsighted and the other farsighted — made achieving his second goal a bit more difficult.
While stationed in Washington, after returning home from a two-year stint as a tank mechanic in Iraq, Essex put in for a position as a helicopter gunner. He knew it was the closest he'd get to the helicopter's steering stick.
"When this opportunity came up, he jumped at it," Essex's mother, Marion Hopkins, said.
Hopkins and Essex had an agreement. Each time he returned from a dangerous mission he had to get on Facebook and send her a one-word message: "OK."
One afternoon in August, Hopkins answered a knock at her door. She saw two men dressed in military uniforms, one carrying a cross. She frantically slammed the door. The dogs had been howling all day; she knew why the men were there.
When she finally opened the door, the strangers on her stoop told her that her 23-year-old son and 10 others had died in a Black Hawk helicopter crash northeast of Afghanistan's Kandahar province.
"They were bad missions," Hopkins said. "He knew that. We knew that. But we never said goodbye."
Richard Allen Essex was born on May 6, 1989, in Blythe, Calif., where his father, Charles Essex, worked as a prison guard. His parents divorced and he was reared mainly in Kelseyville, north of San Francisco, by his mother and stepfather, Brett Hopkins, along with his two sisters, Stacey and Jennifer, and his brother, Michael.
More than 1,000 people packed Kelseyville High School's football stands Sept. 1 for his memorial, and the service happened just the way he wanted. His friends spoke, the meal he planned followed and everyone used Sharpies to scribble him notes on balloons, which they later released.
"It kind of jerked everybody in this town together," Hopkins said. "In school, everyone knew him."
To John Traphagan III, Essex will always be the fun-loving, goofy friend he shared poetry and teenage shenanigans with.
The friends ran into each other at the Lake County Fair last year while Essex was on leave. They talked about the Army and life. Traphagan had gotten married and had a child since they last spoke.
"He gave me a big ol' bro hug and said, 'Next time I come back, I'll have a gift for you for your wedding.'" Traphagan's voice dropped to a whisper. "The next time he came back, he was in a casket."
Hopkins still gets up each morning, walks to the urn in her living room and talks to her son. Maybe eventually she'll spread his ashes, she says, but not yet.
"I like to say he's grounded," she says through a subdued laugh. "I'm not letting him go."
|From The Press Democrat pressdemocrat.com
Kelseyville soldier's body returned home from Afghanistan
By GUY KOVNER THE PRESS DEMOCRAT August 28, 2012, 12:38 PM
With white-gloved military pallbearers locked in a prolonged salute to the fallen soldier, relatives of Army Sgt. Richard A. Essex hugged and cried Tuesday morning at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
Marion and Brett Hopkins of Kelseyville, the 23-year-old soldier's mother and stepfather, shared a long embrace on the concrete apron at the Kaiser Air Center after a seven-member honor guard placed his flag-draped casket in a hearse.
Tears flowed as 16 family members and about a dozen of Essex's childhood friends from Kelseyville consoled one another after a somber wait for his return home on a chartered jet from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, accompanied by Brett Hopkins.
Crowds waving American flags, holding thank-you signs and saluting lined the streets in Kelseyville and Lakeport. Along the route from Santa Rosa, including in Healdsburg, Cloverdale and Ukiah, emergency personnel and private citizens gathered on Highway 101 overpasses to honor the soldier as the motorcade passed.
Essex, who joined the Army just after graduating from Kelseyville High School in 2008, was one of seven U.S. troops killed in the crash of a Black Hawk helicopter Aug. 16 in Afghanistan's Kandahar province.
"I'm very proud of him," Marion Hopkins said at the airport. "He's a very brave young man. He loved his job, fighting for his country."
Family members recalled Essex's enthusiasm for his assignment in Afghanistan as the door gunner in a Black Hawk, the Army's workhorse helicopter for ferrying troops and supplies around the mountainous country.
"He worked hard to get that job," said his father, Charles Essex, wearing his green uniform as a correctional officer at Pelican Bay Prison in Crescent City. "The kid's strapped into a helicopter in an open door, hanging onto a machine gun."
Military officials have not announced whether the Black Hawk crashed or was shot down by the Taliban.
|From NBC 2 nbc-2.com
Local soldier killed in helicopter crash
Posted: Aug 20, 2012 7:20 PM PDT
Updated: Aug 21, 2012 4:24 PM PDT
LEHIGH ACRES -
A highly decorated soldier from Lehigh Acres died while serving in
Afghanistan, according to the United States Department of Defense.
Chief Warrant Officer Brian D. Hornsby, 37, was assigned to the 2nd
Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th
Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
He died in an August 16 helicopter crash northeast of Kandahar,
Afghanistan while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Hornsby's father explained he attended Riverdale High School. He also
attended and graduated from the University of South Florida, Fort Myers
– what is now Florida Gulf Coast University.
"I saw his picture on the news this morning and couldn't believe
it," said childhood friend Vicki Minor.
She says she remembers Hornsby as a shy guy surrounded by friends.
"He was a quiet, home town kind of kid - just everybody's
buddy," Minor said. "I saw his picture on the news this
morning and couldn't believe it."
Chief Warrant Officer Hornsby was married with two young children and
his family is now making plans for a private memorial service.
He was deployed to Afghanistan in January of 2012.
Hornsby's father says he spoke to him on August 8, 2012 via Skype.
Tuesday, he sent this email into our newsroom.
"CW3 Brian D. Hornsby was a loving and compassionate husband,
father, son, brother and friend who never chose the easy path in life.
He joined the Army in 1998 as a Military Policeman with the ultimate
dream of becoming a pilot. That dream became a reality in 2001 when he
was selected for the Army Warrant Officer and Aviation Programs.
Brian certified as a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot in 2003 and has flown VIP
missions in Europe, MEDEVAC missions in Honduras, Air Assault missions
in Iraq, and Special Operations Support missions in Afghanistan during
his Army Aviation career.
It was during one of the Special Operations missions that his helicopter
went down. He was highly respected as "one of the best of the best
pilots" and often requested by name to fly the really tough and
dangerous missions. He never turned down that special opportunity
because he knew it would save the lives of fellow servicemen.
He leaves behind his lovely wife and two very special young children. We
miss him dearly."
Six others were killed in the same crash:
- Chief Warrant Officer Suresh N. A. Krause, 29, of Cathedral City, CA
- Sergeant Luis A. Oliver Galbreath, 41, of San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Sergeant Richard A. Essex, 23, Kelseyville, CA
- Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick D. Feeks, 28,
of Edgewater, Md
- Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 2nd Class David J. Warsen
- Explosive Ordnance Disposal Petty Officer Technician 1st Class Sean P.
Carson, 32, of Des Moines, Wash