STUTTGART, Germany — Hundreds of mourners gathered at the Panzer Kaserne Community Chapel here, Feb. 11 to honor the memory of three soldiers who sacrificed their lives in service to America.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Gary M. Farwell, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Clayton M. Hickman and Cpl. Matthew E. Clark perished in the crash of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter during an evening training mission northeast of Manheim Feb. 3. The soldiers were assigned to G Company, 52nd Regiment, 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade.
"The accident that led to the deaths of these three Americans blindsided us all. It was a kick in the gut. The men killed were among the future stars of Army Aviation," said Lt. Col. Richard Watson, commanding officer of 1-214th.
A close friend of each man came forward to share special memories of their fallen brothers.
"I love Gary Marc Farwell, as does everyone who had the privilege of knowing him. Speech cannot contain our love, but what I can say, is there was and there is, no greater, stronger, manlier-man than that of Gary Farwell," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Tobin.
"You see, Gary had something in his genetic makeup that can never be cloned. He excelled at everything he did. Gary was an Eagle Scout, an Army Ranger and one hell of a Blackhawk pilot; however, his greatest achievements were as a husband to Tawnya and a father to Ashlyn, Ethan and Bella; a son, a brother and a friend," Tobin continued.
Laughter arose from the audience as Tobin explained that he pictured Farwell watching the ceremony and telling the people around him how he would have arranged his own memorial. The event would have included Elton John performing a Gary Farwell-version of "Candle in the Wind," gift certificates to a sporting goods store and a post-ceremony trip to the range to fire off a .50-caliber machine gun.
"I speak for all of us when I say, 'We love your face, Gary Farwell.' Now go and show them how to fly up there, Gary ... because you showed us all how to live down here," Tobin said in conclusion.
Farwell, a Redding, Calif., native, enlisted in the Army in 1996 and spent his first two years of service as an Infantryman. In 1998 he was accepted into the Warrant Officer Corps and Army Aviation. As a UH-60 aviator, Farwell deployed twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Frank Jenkins stepped up to the podium next to fondly recall his friendship with Clayton Hickman.
"I was fortunate to have him as one of my best friends for almost three years. When I suffered heat stroke in flight school, Clayton was there for me. When he was struggling to get through Dunker training, I gladly returned the favor," Jenkins began.
Jenkins described the tight, but competitive, bond he shared with Hickman.
"During our downtime on the flight line at Lowe Army Airfield, we would talk about how awesome or humbling our flight experiences were. We always had to one-up each other. We had to prove whose flight skills were more impressive ... no matter how much either of us had to embellish it," Jenkins said.
Hickman was also blessed with a superb sense of humor and was known for his practical jokes.
"Clayton was quite the practical joker. I remember one Saturday night Clayton called me from a bar in Dothan, Ala. He informed me that a group of pilots were being extremely friendly to my girlfriend and that I might want to come down and assess the situation," Jenkins began.
A wave of laughter followed as Jenkins wrapped up the anecdote.
"I did not want to go out before receiving this information, but I needed to find out what was going on with my girlfriend. When I saw Clayton, he said 'Just kidding, bro. I didn't want to party alone.'"
Jenkins choked back tears as he closed his remarks. "Clayton was a professional who strived to do better, was always upbeat and could always be counted on. He was a great soldier and damn good friend. You will be missed Clayton."
Hickman, a Columbia, Tenn., native, spent more than nine years in the Marine Corps before finding his niche as a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot. In 2006, Hickman enlisted in the Army as a sergeant and graduated from the Warrant Officer Candidate School a short time later. He completed flight school in 2009. He is survived by his son, Brett, daughter, Brenna, and their mother, Janita.
Like Hickman, Matthew Clark was remembered for his candid humor and competitive nature, as was recollected by his friend, Sgt. James Hills.
Clark would often remind his battle buddies "how better-looking or stronger he is than you are," Hills began, before describing his friend as a natural athlete and expert marksman.
In Clark's typical manner, Hills told the audience, during a VIP mission in Oslow, Norway, the confident young corporal approached the commander in chief's Secret Service agents and asked, "Do President Barack Obama's friends call him Barry?"
Hills had to pause for a moment to hold back his tears as he recalled his friend. "He was the first crew chief I trained and progressed. He excelled, was good at everything. He was always a little better than everybody else."
The high-speed Blackhawk crew chief's dream was to earn the Green Beret of the U.S. Army Special Forces, Hills said. His first attempt was just a bit shy of successful, but Hills spoke of Clark's great determination to go back and try again, saying his friend "would have made it with another chance."
Clark, a Searcy, Ark., native, enlisted in the Army in 2007 and completed his training as a helicopter mechanic in 2008. During his time with G Co., Clark progressed to the position of crew chief. He is survived by his mother, Betty, brother John and sister Rachael.
As tales of the men hung in the air, 1st Sgt. Anthony Patronas conducted the Final Roll Call, and then, little by little, the family, friends and battle buddies of Farwell, Hickman and Clark stepped forward to render a final salute and say personal good-byes to the fallen heroes.
Watson shared his send-off with the audience, simply stating, "Crew of Duke 27, you will not be forgotten. Be at peace."