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118th Wing aides Navy in aftermath of Blue Angel crash

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. June 5, 2016 -- NASHVILLE, Tennessee - Key members of the Air National Guard's 118th Wing sprang into action in response to the crash of a Navy Blue Angels Squadron jet June 2, 2016 in Smyrna, Tennessee.

The 118th Wing's leadership, chaplain corps, and public affairs office responded to the crash scene, where Blue Angels pilot, Marine Corps Capt. Jeff Kuss, was killed during a rehearsal flight for the Great Tennessee Air Show.

Col. Keith Allbritten, commander of the 118th Wing, heard the news about the crash while he was still at his office, and after getting permission from his superiors, offered to help at the crash scene.

"I knew that someone would need to secure the site," said Allbritten. "When I got down there I was the ranking individual and became the incident commander at the crash site."

Lt. Col. Clark Harrell, chaplain for the 118th Wing, was returning home from drill when he received a call informing him of the incident. Harrell drove immediately to the hangar housing the Blue Angels to offer grief counseling.

"I just went in as someone who wanted to help," said Harrell. "I couldn't believe how well received and open to talking everyone was; they honored us by being a part of their collective journey of healing."

Capt. Robert Dunbar, chaplain for the 118th Wing, met with the family of Capt. Kuss to assist in their grief counseling. "I hugged his wife and son and told them they were loved."

"This was one of the hardest chaplain responses I have ever been a part of," said Dunbar. "To walk with people in grief like that is an honor and a privilege and solidifies the calling."

The site of the crash covered a large area, and public affairs members Tech. Sgt. Danielle Hopkins, Staff Sgt. Leny Hamm, and Airman 1st Class Anthony Agosti assisted in the photo documentation of the scene to help the investigation. 

"It was a mess," said Hamm, a photojournalist for the 118th Wing. "There was debris spread across several fields. All I could think was, 'Don't screw this up.' My photos could be the difference in whether or not they figure out the cause of the accident. Every piece of the puzzle matters".

"Seeing the Blue Angels crash site was incredibly surreal," said Agosti, a photojournalist for the 118th Wing. "I'm just glad we were able to assist the investigators in telling the story of what happened so that Capt. Kuss's family can have some closure".

"We trained for this," said Hopkins, a broadcaster for the 118th Wing. "While it was a terrible tragedy, it was an honor to be involved."

The 118th Wing's response to the crash made leadership very proud of the work their Airmen do.

"We want to honor a fallen Marine and honor his service and sacrifice for our country," said Allbritten. "We want to be ready and do our part when our country needs us, and they needed us that day."

Harrell summarized the entire experience saying, "The main thing is to feel like you made a difference."
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