KALB – Pineville, Louisiana – The brother and best friend of Chief Warrant Officer 4, David Strother, the Alexandria man with Pineville roots lost in a military helicopter crash on March 10, are sharing their memories of the local hero.
In their first public interview since that terrible day, they sat down with News Channel 5’s Brooke Buford (Twitter: @brookebuford).
David Strother would never call himself a hero.
“That would be the last thing on his mind,” said his brother, Bob Strother.
But, to those who ever knew him, he’s the definition.
“I think he is,” said Strother. “I will always look at him. But, that would be the last thing on his mind, because he’s not a hero. It’s the guys in the huddle. They’re the heroes.”
Strother’s older brother, Bob, says he remembers the first time David starting talking about joining the National Guard.
“Toward his junior year of high school, he decided he wanted to become part of the United States Army,” said Strother. “He really wanted to be in the military. Once he made that call, he went head first in it with everything he had.”
David Strother’s best friend, Ben Baldwin, says that call to join the military began even earlier.
Baldwin, who’s also a Black Hawk pilot in the National Guard, remembers the two playing pretend in grade school.
“We would pretend we were flying a helicopter in 8th grade,” said Baldwin. “We would tilt our desks in unison, banking left and right.”
Strother quickly rose in the ranks with the National Guard, eventually reaching the title of “pilot instructor.”
In his 26 years of service, he served tours in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“David was an excellent pilot,” said Baldwin. “Dave wanted to be the best at whatever he did. He was very professional as a pilot. He was very well trained.”
“Once he got the taste of flying, there was no comparison,” said Strother. “That is all he wanted to do.”
Strother’s leadership left big boot prints, ones that his own son followed in.
So, when it came time for this latest training mission off the coast of Florida, his family didn’t doubt his expertise.
On that foggy March day, Strother and co-pilot George Wayne Griffin set out with nine others onboard.
“Out of respect, I never asked what the mission is,” said Strother. “What are you doing? Where are you going? How long are you going to be going? It’s business.”
What happened next remains a mystery. And, those questions that Strother’s brother never asked, have now been multiplied.
“It was the hardest news I ever got,” he said. “That was hard.”
“I couldn’t connect the two,” said Baldwin. “I couldn’t connect David with that accident. It didn’t seem real. I thought there must be a mistake. Surely, he wasn’t in that aircraft. I didn’t want to process that at the time.”
It was nearly a week before the National Guard identified all four Louisiana guardsmen on board the Black Hawk. Seven marines were also on that flight.
Since the recovery, Strother’s body has been flown to Dover, Delaware to await autopsy.
Now, investigators will piece the helicopter together to see if it was mechanical error. They will also see if human error was to blame or if a medical condition could have possibly played a part.
“You have to be on the same page, everything has to click,” said Strother. “Whether it’s equipment failure or human error, everybody may make mistakes. They do. We all make mistakes. You have to train for that and that’s what these guys were doing. Good is hard. And, I think they were damn good.”
Strother’s family says they’ve been overwhelmed with the community support since that fateful day.
They could hardly believe the crowd that came to support him in a vigil in downtown Alexandria last week.
“Just respect for the uniform,” said Strother. “Respect of the flag. Respect for the common cause. It takes a lot for our servicemen to do what they do.”
And, it’s why Strother’s family and loved ones continue to honor him now…sharing his story about a love for the sky, country and life that he carried with him until the day he died.
“He was a tremendous friend,” said Baldwin.
“I have no regrets,” said Strother. “I’m at peace. It’s still hard. But, I’m at peace. There’s nothing I wished I would have told Dave before he died. I can’t think of anything that I forgot to tell him. That is a very good feeling.”