Published March 18, 2013
When Capt. Sara Knutson graduated from West Point, she made it clear to her mother that she didn’t join the Army to sit behind a desk.
“She came home and said ‘Uhhh, I’m going to fly helicopters or be an MP,’” Lynn Knutson said Sunday. “I was kind of like ‘Oh, couldn’t you do something safer?’ And she said ‘Mom, I’m in the Army, everything is dangerous.’”
Sara Knutson, 27, of Eldersburg, Md., was among five crew members killed when their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed March 11 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The military released their names late Saturday.
The crash is under investigation. Army officials have said that the crew was on a training mission using night vision goggles, and that no enemy attacks were reported.
All five soldiers were assigned to Hunter Army Airfield near Savannah, Ga.
Lynn Knutson said she received an email from her daughter, a Black Hawk pilot, the night she died: “Got to go mom, got to go fly,” the email said.
Knutson said she hasn’t been told whether her daughter was piloting when the helicopter crashed. She had previously been deployed to Pakistan on a humanitarian mission, flying helicopters to help flood victims.
The 2007 West Point graduate was fun-loving and very smart. She liked to camp and snowboard in Alaska, and she enjoyed judo, singing, and putting on heels and dancing, her mother said.
“She had one of those laughs, if you heard her laugh once and you heard it again, you would know it was her,” Knutson said. “It was one of those infectious kinds of laughs.”
Spc. Zachary L. Shannon, 21, volunteered for a deployment to Afghanistan and had no qualms about doing so, even if it ultimately meant giving his life.
“Zach said, ‘I’d do it. For me to go over, that means another service member can come home to their family,’” his mother, Kim Allison, said Sunday. “It blew me away that someone so young could think so unselfishly.”
Shannon loved fishing and his Tampa Bay-area sports teams, and he planned on a military career. He was in ROTC in high school, and he always wanted to fly Black Hawk helicopters, his parents said Sunday.
Shannon knew the risks of serving in Afghanistan and while he was home before his deployment, he talked with his mother about his last wishes. He wanted to be buried in Dunedin instead of Arlington National Cemetery, and so the family has a memorial planned next week at a local VFW post.
The oldest of the crew, 31-year-old Staff Sgt. Marc A. Scialdo, of Naples, Fla. was a Black Hawk section chief. He joined the Army in January 2003 and arrived at the unit in January 2012. His mother, Susan Scialdo, previously told The Associated Press that the soldier made his family so proud he was nicknamed “the Golden Boy.”
“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.”
Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Henderson of Franklin, La., was also among those killed. Henderson was on his second deployment overseas. He joined the Army in May 2007. The Associated Press could not locate any of his relatives for comment.
Staff Sgt. Steven P. Blass, 27, of Estherville, Iowa was married and the father of a young son. He had been in the Army since 2006 and was on his second combat deployment, The Des Moines Register reported.
“He absolutely loved being on helicopters,” a childhood friend, Brandon Johnson, told the newspaper. “He really loved his job.”
Army Maj. Gen. Robert A. Abrams said about 1,000 deployed soldiers in the Black Hawk crew’s unit gathered Friday for a memorial ceremony.
“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.