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Memorials of Senior Airmen Ruiz, Sartain returned to 66 SFS

Members of the 66th Security Forces Squadron unpack memorials for Senior Airmen Kcey Ruiz and Nathan Sartain at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., March 10.

Members of the 66th Security Forces Squadron unpack memorials for Senior Airmen Kcey Ruiz and Nathan Sartain at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., March 10. Hanscom defenders received two shadowboxes honoring the former Hanscom Defenders from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, to display in the squadron's front lobby. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lauren Russell)

March 11, 2021 --

Two memorials dedicated to Senior Airmen Kcey Ruiz and Nathan Sartain were returned to the 66th Security Forces Squadron here March 10 from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.

Ruiz and Sartain, former 66 SFS defenders, were killed in October 2015 while serving in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, when the C-130J Super Hercules aircraft they were on crashed shortly after takeoff.

Efforts to return the items started with similar efforts to retrieve memorials of fallen Airmen from the 105th Airlift Wing, Stewart Air National Guard Base, New York.

“As the mission retrogrades out of Bagram, the security forces manager there reached out to me to see if we could get our memorials back,” said Senior Master Sgt. Todd Lobraico, Sr., 105th Base Defense Squadron Deployment and Mobility superintendent.

Lobracio said his unit had lost three Airmen serving in Afghanistan in 2015: Tech Sgt. Joseph G. Lemm, Staff Sgt. Louis M. Bonacasa, and his son, Staff Sgt. Todd Lobraico, Jr.

“I knew there were memorials there for Ruiz and Sartain, too, and wanted to see if we could recover those as well,” said Lobraico Sr. “New York and Massachusetts are a lot closer than Afghanistan.” Chief Master Sgt. Justin Geers, 66 SFS manager

After a routine cargo mission from Stewart Air National Guard Base, New York, to Bagram Air Base in December 2020, C-17 Globemaster III load masters from the 137th Airlift Squadron at Stewart ANGB secured all five memorials. From there, defenders from the 104th Security Forces Squadron, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, completed the last leg of the journey to Hanscom AFB.

Officials from the 66th Security Forces Squadron said they weren’t sure what the memorials would include or look like until they were unboxed in the squadron lobby.

Hanscom defenders unwrapped two shadowboxes displaying Ruiz’s and Sartain’s uniform blouses.

“Unpacking the boxes and seeing them for the first time was a much more powerful moment than I had expected,” said Maj. Shane Watts, 66 SFS commander. “The memorials symbolize a part of Ruiz and Sartain that have returned to the unit and offer another sense of closure to those who may have served with them.”

Watts acknowledged how much effort went into securing the memorials and said the dedication to return them speaks volumes to their culture as security forces Airmen.

“I’m swelling with pride right now as a defender knowing we’ve gone to such great lengths and care to get these memorials back to us,” said Watts. 

The shadow boxes are currently set directly inside the 66 SFS facility, alongside an additional memorial for Senior Airman Jason “Khai” Phan.

“When you walk into the squadron, the first thing you see are the faces of Senior Airmen Ruiz, Sartain, and Phan, and that sets the stage for your day,” said Chief Master Sgt. Justin Geers, 66 SFS manager. “It’s humbling, and puts things into perspective that there are defenders who sacrifice their lives for the job, and allow us to continue fighting for our country.”