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58th Special Operations Wing
58th Special Operations Wing
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A Heritage of Valor

Posted 10/2/2012   Updated 10/2/2012 Email story   Print story


by Christopher McCune
58 SOW Historian

10/2/2012 - KIRTLAND AFB, N.M. -- In the first part of last week's article on the memorials of the 58 SOW, this space focused attention on memorials dedicated to notable persons in the Air Force and special operations/personnel recovery community at large. In part two, we will focus on memorials dedicated to people associated with the 58 SOW and its mission predecessors at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Some of the memorials may not be well known, but they honor individuals whose contributions to the wing went beyond traditional heroics. These include Building 996, known as Hayden Hall, and the Pyeatt Pavilion, next to Building 1018. The former is named for Chief Master Sgt. Charles Hayden, an avionics maintenance superintendant at Kirtland AFB from December 1984 to January 1990. When Building 996 was completed as a new avionics facility on March 12, 1992, the building was dedicated to him. It currently serves as the headquarters for the 58th Maintenance Squadron. Pyeatt Pavilion is named for retired Colonel Robert J. Pyeatt, who served as commander of 1550th Flying Training Squadron from March 1984 to June 1986. Upon his return to Kirtland AFB in July 1991, Pyeatt served in various positions until September 1996, culminating his time at Kirtland as the 58 SOW vice commander.

Other memorials honor mission training instructors who gave their lives in service. One is Building 1019, dedicated as Backlund Hall on July 11, 1980, in honor of Maj. Donald J. Backlund. He served as an H-53 training instructor for the 1550 ATTW from 1975 to 1978, and lost his life in an A-10 crash in August 1979. Like Lt. Col. Richard Brims, for whom Brims Hall was named, Backlund had been awarded the Air Force Cross in 1975 for actions at Koh Tang Island. He was named winner of the 1975 Jabara Award, top graduate of both his Primary Helicopter Training and Fixed Wing Conversion Training classes, and posthumously awarded an Air Medal for his participation in a 1977 rescue mission in Aspen, Colo., that saved four lives.

Two other memorials of this kind are outside the 58 SOW conference room in Building 1020, and at the 58 SOW airpark on the east side of Doris Street. The former is dedicated to Capt. Randy K. Jensen, who lost his life because of injuries in an HH-53 crash in the Cibola National Forest near Grants, New Mexico, in November 1981. Following the crash, Jensen, despite an injured hip and severe burns, managed to pull his flight engineer from the wreckage before he collapsed. He was posthumously awarded the Airman's Medal for his actions. The latter memorial is dedicated to the crew of the HC-130 King 02, which crashed 16 miles north of Magdalena, N.M., on April 2, 1986. All 11 crewmembers perished in the crash, and their memorial consists of a small stone marker near the UH-1F display in the airpark.

The most recent 58 SOW memorial is the renaming of Frances Street from Randolph Avenue to Biggs Avenue as Plumhoff Way, in honor of Maj. Steven Plumhoff. The MH-53 instructor with the 551st Special Operations Squadron had been sent to Bagram, Afghanistan, in September 2003, with a team of five other 58 SOW instructors. On Nov. 23, Plumhoff and three other crewmembers died in a crash. On Nov. 29, Plumhoff Way was dedicated in his memory, and the 551 SOS placed memorial plaques in its foyer to Plumhoff and the other crewmembers who perished. They are on display in the Brims Hall entryway.

Individually, each of these memorials reflects a unique story of service and sacrifice. In the coming years, the 58 SOW will continue to esteem the memory of the individuals commemorated in them, and ensure that their place in the special operations and personnel recovery pantheon is not forgotten.

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