- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

An Iraqi pilot and four U.S. airmen were together aboard an Iraqi air force plane when it crashed in May. Their remains were buried together yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery.

Iraqi air force Capt. Ali Hussam Abass Alrubaeye, 34, was the first Iraqi buried at the United States’ premier military cemetery.

“This will signify that these warriors were training together, they went into battle together, they died together, and it’s only proper that they be buried together,” Lt. Gen. Michael Wooley, commander of the Air Force’s Special Operations Command, said before the service.

A silver casket covered with an American flag contained Capt. Alrubaeye’ remains, as well as those of Maj. William Downs, 40, of Winchester, Va.; Capt. Jeremy Fresques, 26, of Clarkdale, Ariz.; Capt. Derek Argel, 28, of Lompoc, Calif.; and Staff Sgt. Casey Crate, 26, of Spanaway, Wash.

Even after resorting to DNA tests, officials were unable to identify some remains of the five men killed May 30 when their single-engine plane crashed in eastern Diyala province.

Separate funerals with remains that could be identified were held earlier by the airmen’s families. The four had been assigned to Hurlburt Field, Fla.

The unidentified remains were buried with full military honors, including the presentation of Iraqi flags to Capt. Alrubaeye’s parents and widow by Iraqi air force commander Maj. Gen. Kamal Abdul-Sattar Barzanjy.

The 30-minute service included a procession by a U.S. Air Force band ahead of a caisson carrying the casket, a flyover and a 21-gun salute.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Tom Sherlock, the cemetery’s historian, said of the group burial. “This person was shoulder to shoulder with American airmen.”

The crash is still under investigation but is not thought to have been the result of hostile fire, Gen. Wooley said.

The six-seat Iraqi air force Comp Air 7SL aircraft had been on a mission to survey potential emergency landing sites in the region.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Alton Phillips, who served with Capt. Alrubaeye in Iraq this spring, said the captain would have wanted his death to be part of efforts to bring about positive change in Iraq.

“He was very dedicated about doing this mission, about getting the Iraqi air force, rebuilding it and making it viable,” Col. Phillips said. “If anyone deserves such an honor, it is certainly” Capt. Alrubaeye.

Col. Phillips said Capt. Alrubaeye was a quick thinker and displayed it when the two were forced to land on a dirt road 25 miles from Kirkuk after engine failure.

Fearing what might happen as the two men saw vehicles approaching the aircraft from both directions, Capt. Alrubaeye told Col. Phillips to hide behind a nearby sand berm so he could deal with locals and allay any concerns.

“That he had the presence of mind to think of this and the courage to be willing to protect me, I thought that was absolutely incredible,” Col. Phillips said.

There have been eight group burials at the cemetery involving 19 foreigners, Mr. Sherlock said. There are 43 individual foreigners also buried there, he said.

In 2002, the unidentified remains of three Americans and seven South Vietnamese soldiers were buried after the discovery in 1990 of a helicopter crash site in Laos where the crew went down in 1968.

Yesterday’s burial brought the number of people involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom buried at the cemetery to 184.

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