The cost of war cast a pall over Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Thursday with news that two local Air Force rescuers were killed in action in Afghanistan - the first D-M fatalities since the wars there and in Iraq began.
Tech. Sgt. Michael P. Flores, 32, and Senior Airman Benjamin D. White, 24, were among four Air Force members killed Wednesday when their rescue helicopter crashed near Forward Operating Base Jackson in Sangin, northern Helmand province.
They are the 43rd and 44th combat deaths from Tucson and Southern Arizona since the wars began.
Details of the crash weren't immediately available, but some international news outlets reported that the Taliban claimed responsibility for shooting down the aircraft.
Two other airmen, 1st Lt. Joel C. Gentz, 25, and Staff Sgt. David C. Smith, 26, both of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, also died.
Flores, a father of two, and White were pararescuemen, or PJs, highly trained to perform lifesaving missions - when necessary by using daring techniques such as rappelling from helicopters or parachuting from high altitude.
Training for the elite field is so strenuous it's known as "Superman school." About 85 percent of hopefuls wash out during the rigors, which can take two years.
PJs are highly regarded in Air Force culture for their skills and willingness to risk their lives to save others.
Both airmen were assigned to D-M's 48th Rescue Squadron, part of the 563rd Rescue Group, which conducts combat search- and-rescue missions using HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters.
They were on a rescue mission at the time of the crash, said their squadron commander, Maj. Jason Pifer. Details of the mission were not immediately available.
Besides saving U.S. troops and allied casualties, combat rescuers often are called upon to aid wounded Afghan police, military personnel or civilians - sometimes even insurgents, Pifer said.
Flores, who enlisted 12 years ago, was on his eighth deployment, while White, who joined the service in 2006, was on his first. Both arrived in Afghanistan in early May.
Flores, a native of San Antonio, Texas, is married to another D-M airman, Tech Sgt. Marisa Flores, a product improvement manager for D-M's 355th Maintenance Group. The couple have two children, a daughter, Eliana, 3, and a year-old son, Michael.
Pifer described Flores as "a nice, quiet, family guy with a phenomenal work ethic.
"He absolutely cherished his wife and kids. And he earned the respect of all his peers."
In previous deployments, Flores was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and 12 Air Medals.
White, of Erwin, Tenn., was a sharp-witted young man "with a huge, huge heart," Pifer said. If a colleague needed help moving, for example, White would be the first to offer.
"What I remember about him most is that he always had a smile on his face. He was from Tennessee, so he had that big Southern drawl and a smile to go with it."
White is survived by his father, Anthony White, mother Brenda Logozo and stepfather Frank Logozo.
Their cities of residence were not immediately available.
Brig. Gen. Paul Johnson, D-M's installation commander, said officials there are focused now on doing everything possible to help the airmen's survivors.
"Obviously, this is an extraordinarily sad time for every member of the D-M team," Johnson told news reporters who gathered at the base soon after the Pentagon announced the deaths.
"These two men gave their own lives in the brave and selfless effort to save the lives of others. Their sacrifice will be solemnly remembered by all of us."
A memorial service for the two airmen is tentatively scheduled for June 16 at the base chapel. It's not expected to be open to the public.
Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4138.