WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense announced Thursday the deaths of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
Both soldiers died Nov. 20 in Logar Province, Afghanistan, when their helicopter crashed while providing security for troops on the ground. The incident is under investigation.
The deceased are Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kirk T. Fuchigami Jr., 25, from Keaau, Hawaii, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 David C. Knadle, 33, from Tarrant, Texas.
Both soldiers were assigned to 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.
“First Attack is saddened by the tragic loss of Chief Warrant Officer 2 David C. Knadle and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kirk T. Fuchigami Jr,” Lt. Col. Adam Camarano, commander of the 1-227th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, said in a statement. “Our heartfelt condolences go to both families and their friends during this difficult time.”
He added that both soldiers would “always be remembered as a part of the heroic legacy of the 1st Cavalry Division; forged by the sacrifices of brave cavalry troopers who have laid down their lives in defense of freedom.”
The U.S.-led NATO coalition Resolute Support said Wednesday that initial reports did not suggest enemy fire was responsible for the crash.
“The cause of the crash is under investigation; however, preliminary reports do not indicate it was caused by enemy fire,” Resolute Support said in a statement Wednesday.
The Taliban later claimed that they shot down a helicopter in eastern Logar Province.
President Trump made an unexpected trip to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Thursday to show support to families receiving the remains of the two service members. He was accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Miley and actor Jon Voight.
Trump saluted as the remains were borne off a plane and transferred to a vehicle.
According to The Military Times, 19 U.S. troops have been killed in combat in Afghanistan this year, the highest number since 2014. There have also been three non-combat deaths in Afghanistan this year.
Fuchigami earned awards including the Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal and the National Defense Service Medal. He became an active-duty soldier in May 2017 and joined the 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment in October 2018.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige said in a statement, “The people of Hawaii join me in extending our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kirk T. Fuchigami, Jr., who paid the ultimate price for our freedom while serving his country in Afghanistan. Let us come together to support the family of this fallen soldier and honor his life, now and in the coming months and years.”
“Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kirk Fuchigami served our country with courage and distinction,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “His death is a loss that will be felt across the Big Island and the state of Hawaii, and as a nation, we will always remember his sacrifice. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, family, and friends during this very difficult time.
“We only hope that they find comfort in knowing that his service exceeded all measures of honor. In life, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Fuchigami was a guardian of liberty. In rest, may he find the peace we all seek.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who is herself a veteran, tweeted, “My heart is with the families of CW2 Kirk Fuchigami Jr. of Keaʻau, HI and his brother-in-arms, CW2 David Knadle of Tarrant, TX. We grieve alongside you for the loss of two great patriots who gave all in service to our nation. We will never forget.”
According to The Hawaii Tribune-Herald, Fuchigami was a newlywed.
“He was and is a strong, courageous soldier and loyal husband,” McKenzie Norman Fuchigami posted on Facebook. “Eight months of marriage with him was the best months of my life. He taught me so much about love and respect. I’m blessed to have been loved by him so fiercely. We still have eternity babe, can’t get off that easy.”
She asked loved ones to post photos of her husband, whom family and friends called by his middle name, Takeshi, on their timelines.
Hoku award-winning Big Island musician Kris Fuchigami, the soldier’s cousin, posted on Facebook he taught his cousin to play ukulele. “In one week’s time, you learned 2 songs and I brought you up on stage and you played those songs perfectly! It made me so happy to see you with a huge smile on your face playing your newly discovered joy!
“I love you Takeshi and still can’t believe any of this. But I know you are in a better place.”