139th News

Fallen soldier returns home

  • Published
  • By Maj. Barb Denny
  • 139th Airlift Wing
A quiet hum of a small chartered jet engine was all you could hear as the aircraft carrying Chief Warrant Officer Matthew G. Kelley's remains passed in front of the 139th Airlift Wing's U.S. flag flying at half mast. Normally on an early February morning, you would hear C-130 engines running, the sounds of vehicles moving, and voices of unit members. Not this morning.

CWO Kelley, a U.S. Army Kiowa helicopter pilot, died Jan. 26 when two helicopters collided at Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq, killing all four service members aboard. Kelley was on his second tour in Iraq at the time of his death.

The jet taxied to a stop in front of a row of Rosecrans fire trucks and firefighters and shut down its engines. Family members watched as an honor guard from Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., moved into position to transfer the flag draped casket to the awaiting hearse.

Quietly, more than 300 members of the 139th lined the street for a chance to honor the fallen soldier as he departed on the last leg of his trip home.

With only the sound of the leaves rustling in the wind and a low rumble of motorcycle engines of the Patriot Guard escort, the hearse made its way from the ramp to the gate. As it passed, members of the 139th standing shoulder to shoulder rendered a slow ceremonial salute of respect.

Halfway around the world a few days earlier, another member of the 139th was on the ramp at Kirkuk to be part of the ceremony that started Kelly's journey home. Staff Sgt. Danielle Jones had read he was from the area but had no idea his final stop would be Rosecrans. "There is something about the whole ceremony that tugs at the heartstrings," said Jones. "Knowing that those were someone's sons, brothers, husbands, fathers and best friends just makes it tough."

"This is the first time I can remember us facilitating the return of a fallen soldier," said Col. Mike Pankau, vice commander.