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Memorial Day ceremony honors Medal of Honor recipient, pilot graduate

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Members of the 14th Flying Training Wing gathered in front of the Richard “Gene” Smith Plaza here during a Memorial Day ceremony May 28, paying tribute to Master Sgt. John Chapman, Medal of Honor recipient, and 1st Lt. David Albandoz, a former student pilot here.

“Today is not a day of celebration, but a day to remember, reflect and be grateful for the men and women who selflessly sacrificed for their nation,” said Col. Samantha Weeks, 14th Flying Training Wing commander. “We remember the sacrifices of our steadfast Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines.”

Chapman was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for actions on Takur Ghar Mountain in Afghanistan on March 4, 2002, when his team was ambushed by the enemy and came under heavy fire from multiple directions.

Despite severe wounds, he fought relentlessly, sustaining a violent engagement with multiple enemy personnel before making the ultimate sacrifice. With his last actions, Chapman saved the lives of his teammates and dozens of members of his rescue team.

Albandoz dedicated over 16 years of his life to the U.S. Air Force. Most recently, Albandoz attended Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, graduating in 2017 as a member of SUPT Class 17-14. After completing C-130H training at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, he returned to the 198th Airlift Squadron at Muñiz Air National Guard Base, Puerto Rico, as a qualified C-130H co-pilot.

“I had the distinct honor of being one of David’s instructors during pilot training,” said Capt. Joshua Mote, 48th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot. “Everyone enjoyed the joyful and mature perspective that David brought to the flight room. He was always seeking ways to help his classmates and instructors, even if that just meant bringing a smile to their face with a funny joke or comment, even in the early morning or late night.”

Albandoz logged over 2,000 flying hours while assigned to the 198th Airlift Squadron. He died on May 2, 2018, at the age of 37 in a non-combat related incident involving a WC-130 Hercules aircraft departing from Savannah, Georgia.

“David was an outstanding wingman, a servant leader, and a true jokester,” Mote said. “His legacy continues to influence the lives he touched, and those fortunate enough to call him a friend. We will forever remember Lt. Albandoz for his kindness, generosity, humor, heroism, and love as a cherished husband, father, brother, son, friend and wingman.”

Family and friends of Albandoz attended the ceremony to honor his contributions to the country and to Columbus AFB.

The names of Chapman and Albandoz were added to the memorial wall in the plaza. Since Columbus AFB became a pilot training base in 1971, 87 pilot training graduates and instructor pilots have died in the line of duty and their names have been added to the memorial wall in the plaza.
“We honor our fallen by our daily actions, by the lives we live moving forward, for the families and community we love, and for our country,” Weeks said. “Master Sgt. John Chapman and Lt. Albandoz represent our best. Airmen that embody what it means to be an American, a child, parent, spouse neighbor and a friend. They died for us. We must remember them, speak of them, smile with them and live for them.

During the ceremony, Weeks also stressed the importance of not forgetting and remembering the sacrifices those have made in defense and support of America.

“The nation is grateful for our fallen Airmen’s sacrifice, but we must acknowledge the family’s sacrifice too,” Weeks continued. “It is every bit as much as the military members themselves. When the parades are over, and the flowers and wreathes wither away, these brave Americans carry on, endure and live for the memory of their fallen.”