Operation Iraqi Freedom, Fallen Heroes, Iraq War 03/19/03

Keith Yoakum

Hemet, California

February 2, 2007

Age Military Rank Unit/Location
41 Army CWO

1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division

Fort Hood, Texas

 Killed in Taji, Iraq, when their Apache helicopter was forced to land during combat operations.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Keith Yoakum

24 November 1965 – 02 February 2007

CW4 Keith Yoakum was born on November 24th, 1965, in Hemet, California. Keith enlisted in the United States Army in September 1986 and served as a light wheel vehicle mechanic at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. In September 1988, Keith joined the United States Army Reserves at the Los Alamitos Armed Forces Reserve Center, California and served as an UH-1 crew chief until February 1991.
Keith completed Initial Entry Rotary Wing Aeroscout Course at Fort Rucker, Alabama in February 1992. 

Upon completion of IERW he attended the AH-1 Aircraft Qualification Course and was assigned to 5th Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment at Camp Eagle, Korea. Keith completed the AH-64A Aircraft Qualification Course at Fort Rucker, Alabama in August 1993. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. 

In April 1995, Keith completed the AH-64 Armament Maintenance Technical Course in Fort Eustis, Virginia. In May 1996, he completed the AH-64A Maintenance Test Pilot Course. Keith’s other assignments as an AH-64A Maintenance Test Pilot includes: Security Assistance Training Team in Cairo, Egypt in 1997, 6th Squadron, 6th U.S. Cavalry at Illsheim, Germany in 1998, and 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment, Aviation Training Brigade at Fort Rucker, Alabama in 2001. He was deployed to Bosnia in August 1998 in support of Operation Joint Forge. CW4 Yoakum served as a member of Task Force Hawk in support of Operation Allied Force in Albania and Task Force Falcon in support of Operation Joint Guardian in Kosovo in 1999. 

Keith’s additional qualifications include: Close Air Support Course in December 2000, Fixed Wing Multi-Engine Qualification Course in September 2001, AH-64A Instructor Pilot Course in January 2002, AH-64D Longbow Apache Qualification Course in November 2002, AH-64D Longbow Maintenance Test Pilot Course in December 2002, Fixed Wing Multi-Engine Instructor Pilot Course in August 2005, and the Rotary Wing Instrument Flight Examiner Course in September 2005. In May 2004 he completed the RC-7B, Phase II and DHC-7 Qualification Course at Fort Bliss, Texas and was assigned to 3rd Military Intelligence Battalion at Camp Humphries, Korea in June 2004 where he served as a Standardization Instructor Pilot and Maintenance Test Pilot in the EO-5C Combat Reconnaissance Aircraft until June 2006. CW4 Yoakum was selected to fly for the United States Parachute Team, the `Golden Knights`, in November 2005 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Keith turned down the opportunity, and elected to return to the AH-64D Longbow Apache to deploy to Iraq. 

In July 2006 he was assigned to 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas where he served as an AH-64D Maintenance Test Pilot. He deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in September 2006 through February 2007 with over 300 hours of Combat Flying Time. His awards include the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with five Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Achievement Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal with one Bronze Star, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Kosovo Campaign Medal with Bronze Star, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Korean Defense Service Medal, the Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon with Bronze Numeral 4, the NATO Medal, the Combat Action Badge, the Air Assault Badge, the Parachutist Badge, and the Master Army Aviator Badge. Foreign country awards include: Egyptian Aviator Wings, German Aviator Wings, and the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge. Keith earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Florida and earned an Associates Degree in Automotive Mechanics from Mount San Jacinto College, San Jacinto, California. 

At the age of 16 Keith received his civilian private pilots license at Hemet-Ryan airport in California. His additional civilian aviation qualifications include: Airframe and Powerplant Certification, Inspection Authorization Certification, Commercial Pilot Single Engine and Multi-engine Instrument License, Private Glider License, Private Single Engine Sea Plane License, Commercial Instrument Rotor Craft, Certified Flight Instructor (ground and air), Commercial Rating in Type BE-200 and DHC-7, and the FAA Jump Master Qualification. 

CW4 Keith Yoakum was killed in action on 02 February 2007, near Taji Iraq, while conducting a combat air patrol in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is survived by his wife Kelly, daughters Katelynn and Kirstee. Keith’s parents G.A. and Phoebe Yoakum, brothers Mark, Kevin, and sister Maryann. 

337 Over Baghdad

By James Scott Morrison

Tribute to CW4 Keith Yoakum and CW2 Jason G. Defrenn

On the morning of 2 February 2007 CW4 Keith Yoakum and CW2 Jason G. Defrenn were flying the trail aircraft in a flight of two AH-64D Longbow Apache helicopters as they departed on a reconnaissance mission in support of four separate ground brigades in and around Baghdad Iraq. Just when the Apache team began reconnaissance of a test fire area, waves of red tracers and heavy machine gun fire burst into the sky from multiple directions and raked the Apaches. The tracer fire immediately engulfed their aircraft and riddled the fuselage. The enemy had established a deadly kill zone comprised of multiple heavy machine gun and anti-aircraft gun positions. They immediately radioed their lead aircraft to maneuver it away from the direction of fire. As the lead aircraft broke hard to the right, the enemy responded, shifting its fire away from Keith and Jason’s aircraft and toward the lead aircraft. They warned the lead helicopter announcing “now you’re taking fire!” and the two aircraft broke left to escape the deadly kill zone. 

Despite the damage to their aircraft, CW4 Yoakum took personal charge of the team amid the melee of bullets, calmed his lead aircraft, and steered the team out of the kill zone. The team raced to the north to separate from the enemy force and to acquire standoff range to assess the situation. Immediately after their turn to the north, Keith announced that he had “lost utility hydraulics,” a condition that requires the pilot to land the aircraft immediately at the nearest clear landing area. As the senior maintenance test pilot in the company, a prior instructor at the U.S. Army Maintenance Test Pilot Course, and a Master Army Aviator with almost 5000 flight hours, Keith understood the gravity of his Apache’s emergency condition. Furthermore, he recognized that the loss of hydraulic pressure prevented them from employing their aircraft’s main gun. As a result, he would have to use the aircraft’s 2.75 inch rockets from a fixed position, requiring skillful maneuvering of the crippled aircraft to accurately employ the rockets against the enemy. 

The team continued northbound and after approximately two minutes no longer had tracers whipping by their windscreens. Once clear of the immediate threat, Keith and Jason had the opportunity to fly their critically damaged aircraft back to the airfield or land in the open desert to conduct an emergency extraction on their wingman’s aircraft. Still, despite the cockpit warnings and Keith and Jason’s recognition of this grave situation, they never considered leaving their wingman and knew this enemy would kill again if left on the battlefield. The enemy had a distinct advantage as a result of their concealed position among the numerous canals and irrigation ditches in the surrounding countryside. Despite the fierce danger inherent in pressing the attack, Keith radioed his wingman that “I can put rockets in” and continued to plan the route back into the withering fire of the enemy’s ambush site to destroy the enemy’s anti-aircraft positions. 

Instructions to the lead aircraft were simple: “you find them, we’ve got you covered.” Keith and Jason knew that their Apache team had a sliver of an opportunity to engage and destroy the enemy before they blended into the Iraqi countryside. The team decided to search the ambush area in a cloverleaf pattern, thereby performing a sweep of the area from all directions until they were able to locate the anti-aircraft guns. 

Approximately two minutes after the initial ambush had crippled Keith and Jason’s Apache, the lead aircraft, acting on their instructions, turned south to begin their search for the enemy ambush site. Despite the deteriorating condition of their own aircraft, Keith announced “were going to climb up and cover you from high and we’re gonna work on rockets.” As they continued losing critical hydraulic pressure, Keith determined that their degraded weapons systems necessitated that they climb to altitude and then dive the damaged aircraft directly at the enemy to provide effective rocket fire. Only by diving from a higher altitude directly toward the enemy position could they provide precise rocket fire for their wingman while focusing fires solely on the enemy and away from the surrounding villages and homes in the Iraqi countryside. With unmatched skill and extraordinary courage, Keith began his climb to posture the crippled aircraft in a diving position, knowing full well that his climb would give the enemy gunners a clearer line of sight and more time with which to engage as he maneuvered back towards the ambush site. 

Keith and Jason’s dying Apache was not able to sustain its altitude. As the Apache team made a second inbound run to the ambush area utilizing their cloverleaf pattern, the lead Apache radioed to Keith and Jason to ensure that they were still with them. After transmitting several radio calls and receiving no response, the lead aircraft began a left turn and acquired Keith and Jason’s aircraft. After flying for almost four minutes in a critical state, Apache 337 had succumbed to its battle damage and was engulfed in a blazing fire on the ground following a crash that had instantly killed CW4 Keith Yoakum and CW2 Jason Defrenn. 

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