VNG remembers victims of 203rd RED HORSE 2001 crash

Family members, friends and Airmen assigned to the Virginia Air National Guard’s Virginia Beach-based 203rd RED HORSE Squadron conduct a memorial service March 3, 2016, at Camp Pendleton to honor and remember 18 unit members and three Florida Army Guard aviators killed 15 years earlier. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Every year, on March 3rd, Airmen of the Virginia Air National Guard’s 203rd Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers Squadron, 192nd Wing, along with their family, friends and the entire Virginia National Guard community remember and commemorate those killed in the worst peacetime aviation disaster in National Guard History.

Eighteen members of the 203rd RED HORSE were killed alongside three aviators from the Florida Army National Guard’s Detachment 1, 171st Aviation Battalion when the C-23 Sherpa they were flying in crashed in a cotton field near Unadilla, Georgia, March 3, 2001.

The 203rd members were returning home after completing a two-week military construction project at Hurlburt Field, Florida. It was the worst loss of life in the Virginia National Guard since World War II.

In 2021, family members and friends of the fallen Airmen and Soldiers gathered at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia, to mark the 20th anniversary of the tragedy. It was the first memorial ceremony the squadron has hosted since 2016 — past ceremonies were held annually. In keeping with tradition, Col. Stock Dinsmore, 192nd Mission Support Group commander, officiated the event as he had in years past. Dinsmore was a member of the 203rd RED HORSE for more than 21 years and served more than four years as the squadron’s commander. 

Dinsmore said he remembered the fallen Airmen and the events of that day in 2001 but wanted to focus on the significance of recognizing March 3rd, 20 years later. 

“Normally, 20 years is associated with the completion of a military career; there aren’t many people still serving in the Virginia National Guard, or probably still serving in general, who were a part of the unit that day,” Dinsmore said. “And as there become fewer members for our new Airmen to ask questions to, to hear the do you inspire that connection with others in the future?” 

Retired Col. Thomas Turlip, 203rd RED HORSE commander in 2001, also attended and reflected on the day of the tragedy and the events that followed. He called the 30,000-square-foot memorial site a “labor of love.” 

“I made a promise to the families that we would not forget, that we would always remember those guys,” Turlip said. “One of the former 203rd members came up with this concept you see in front of you right here. We had an enormous fundraising activity go on...and every RED HORSE squadron, active duty, reserve and guard, all built here what you see.” 

The 203rd is currently commanded by Lt. Col. Jeffrey E. Getz, who took command from Dinsmore in April 2018. The unit provides a highly mobile civil engineering response force to support contingency operations worldwide.

Read about the ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the crash held March 3, 2021, at

203rd RED HORSE Airmen lost in the crash:
• Senior Master Sgt. James Beninati of Virginia Beach, Virginia
• Tech. Sgt. Paul Blancato of Norfolk, Virginia
• Master Sgt. Ernest Blawas of Virginia Beach, Virginia
• Tech. Sgt. Andrew H. Bridges of Chesapeake, Virginia
• Senior Master Sgt. Eric Bulman of Virginia Beach, Virginia
• Tech. Sgt. Paul Cramer of Norfolk, Virginia
• Master Sgt. Michael East of Parksley, Virginia
• Tech. Sgt. Ronald Elkin of Norfolk, Virginia
• Tech. Sgt. James Ferguson of Newport News, Virginia
• Tech. Sgt. Randy Johnson of Emporia, Virginia
• Staff Sgt. Mathrew Kidd of Hampton, Virginia
• Senior Master Sgt. Michael Lane of Moyock, North Carolina
• Master Sgt. Edwin Richardson of Virginia Beach, Virginia
• Master Sgt. Dean Shelby of Virginia Beach, Virginia
• Tech. Sgt. John Sincavage of Chesapeake, Virginia
• Tech. Sgt. Gregory Skurupey of Gloucester, Virginia
• Tech. Sgt. Richard Summerell of Franklin, Virginia
• Maj. Frederick Watkins of Virginia Beach, Virginia

Florida Army National Guard Soldiers lost in the crash:
• Chief Warrant Officer 4 Johnny W. Duce of Orange Park, Florida
• Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eric P. Larson of Land-O-Lakes, Florida
• Staff Sgt. Robert F. Ward Jr. of Lakeland, Florida