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386th Air Expeditionary Wing Airmen salute a memorial display, June 15, after a ceremony held in honor of Airman 1st Class Eric Barnes, who was killed in action while on a convoy mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Airmen, Soldiers pay respects to fallen comrade in arms

6/19/2007 SOUTHWEST ASIA - An empty pair of boots placed in front and, just behind, a helmet sat atop the inverted rifle that held his hanging dog tags -- the memorial display stood center stage and served as a focal point for the many Airmen and Soldiers who had come to pay respects to a fellow American whose ultimate sacrifice was honored in a ceremony June 16 in the Zone 1 Chapel at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

Airman 1st Class Eric Barnes was killed in action June 10 when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device. He was driving the lead vehicle of a convoy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Airman Barnes was assigned to the 424th Medium Truck Detachment.

A 16-minute slide show gave those in attendance a glimpse of Airman Barnes' life. As bagpipes played "Amazing Grace," the final few attendees entered the Chapel and signed a guest book.

With every seat taken and the rear of the chapel filled three-deep, more than 750 friends, comrades-in-arms and patriots had filled the room by the time the ceremony began. After the invocation, Lt. Col. Daryl Cunningham, 586th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron commander, spoke a few words about Airman Barnes.

"Airman Barnes was a remarkable young man and one of the finest Airmen I've had the honor of working with," he said. "His fellow Airmen were, and continue to be, inspired by his example."

"His devotion to the mission and his friends was steadfast and sincere," added Capt. Robert Sonnenberg, 424th MTD commander. "He dedicated his life to helping others."

Members of Airman Barnes' unit also took time to reflect on the impact he had on their lives.

"He could always make you smile," said Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Sudlow. "My family loved him."

Sergeant Sudlow remembered a time when he came home after Airman Barnes had babysat his two daughters. "The kids told me afterward 'We like him ... he played Barbie with us.' They used to call him their big brother."

"He had such a strong work ethic," said Senior Airman Jency Jackson, a member of Airman Barnes' flight.

Airman Jackson quoted Bravo Flight's motto "Bravo flight, ready to fight, ready to kill, ready to die but never will." Fighting back the tears she said, "You may not be with us in the flesh, but we will never let you die."

Army Chaplain (Capt.) Lyle Shackelford then read messages from friends and family from Airman Barnes' hometown.

"'The Angels are at your side,' his old baseball coach said ..." read Chaplain Shakelford. " ... 'He always led by example,' remembered his former Boy Scout master."

When the messages were finished, Chief Master Sgt. Richard Bunce called roll for Airman Barnes' element.

"Staff Sergeant Hull!"

"Here Chief!"

"Senior Airman Herbert!"

"Here Chief!"

"Senior Airman Sandoval!"

"Here Chief!"

"Airman First Class Barnes!"

"Airman First Class Eric Barnes!"

"Airman First Class Eric M. Barnes!"

A series of three volleys from seven M-16 rifles just outside the Chapel doors were the only reply. A bugler from the Army's Honor Guard played taps, everyone inside stood silently.

A benediction from Chaplain Shackelford closed the speaking portion of the ceremony.

For more than an hour after the ceremony, attendees stood in line for an opportunity to approach the memorial on stage and pay final respects. Soldiers and Airmen alike whispered prayers, saluted and said goodbye to Airman Barnes.

"Godspeed, Eric," said Captain Sonnenberg.

Airman Barnes was on his second deployment to the 424th MTD from F. E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. After his first deployment ended in 2006, Airman Barnes volunteered for another rotation. He regularly performed the duties of lead vehicle driver.

Airman 1st Class Eric M. Barnes, 20, was a Lorain, Ohio native. He is survived by his mother, Shary, and his father, Tom.

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