Air Force IDs F-16 Pilot Killed in Afghanistan

The Shaw Air Force Base pilot killed after his fighter jet crashed in Afghanistan was a 29-year-old captain from Tampa, Fla., Defense Department officials said April 5.

Capt. James Michael Steel died April 3 in the crash of his F-16 in Afghanistan while returning to base from a close air support mission, said Capt. Ann K. Blodzinski, with Shaw's public affairs office.

Steel is the third member of the military with ties to South Carolina to die in Afghanistan this year, and the 45th member of the military with S.C. ties to die in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.

Steel died after his fighter jet, a Fighting Falcon, crashed near Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul, officials confirmed April 5. He was assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron, known as the Gamblers.

Air Force Central Command spokesperson Capt. Natassia Cherne was quoted on Stars and Stripes' website as saying the plane was on its final approach to land after a routine air support mission around 11 p.m. when it lost contact with its wingman and the control tower. It crashed 10 miles south of the runway, Cherne said.

Steel's body has been recovered, and the crash site has been secured, Sgt. Alexandria Mosness said April 5. There were no reports of insurgent activity in the area at the time, she said.

Officials said the accident is under investigation.

Steel graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2006, completed pilot training and arrived at Shaw in June 2010. He was the chief of mobility for the squadron, which provides close air support for U.S. and coalition troops on the ground.

Steel is the son of retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Steel, former commandant of the National War College in Washington. Steel's mother, Dee, twin brother, Jonathan, and younger brother Christopher are also Air Force Academy graduates, according to an article from the Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., newspaper and the Air Force Times.

"Since I was little, I got to watch my dad take off and see him come back from deployment," James said in the 2009 Luke Air Force Base story. "It is cool to actually be doing what he used to do."

Col. Clay Hall, commander of the 20th Fighter Wing in Sumter, offered his condolences to Steel's family, friends and squadron members.

"This is a difficult time for Shaw AFB, but we are focused on taking care of the Steel family, our airmen and continuing to execute the mission," he said in a press release.

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley mourned Steel's loss. Haley's husband, First Gentleman Michael Haley, deployed to Afghanistan in January as part of a 46-member agriculture development team.

"As a military family, we know well that our men and women in uniform sacrifice every day for us, and when they pay the ultimate price, they deserve our eternal gratitude. Michael and I have the families of our fallen heroes in our thoughts and prayers."

On March 29, Chief Warrant Officer Curtis S. Reagan, 43, of Summerville, died in Afghanistan from an illness that was not related to combat, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Defense. Reagan was assigned to the 603rd Aviation Support Battalion, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. He was based at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah.

South Carolina also lost retired Sgt. 1st Class Inez "Renee" Odom-Baker of Cayce in Afghanistan. She was killed during an insurgent attack March 8 while working as an intelligence analyst for a private contractor.

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