"We train the way we fight." A popular mantra amongst Marines, it underscores a mentality that prepares military units and personnel for the challenges and difficult truths of war. However war is not the only time we are reminded of the military's inherently dangerous nature.
On Thursday night, four Marine veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom were killed in a UH-1N Huey helicopter crash during a routine training flight here. This "band of brothers," a detachment from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, attached to reinforced Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, were flying in Talega Canyon in the northwest portion of base when the crash occurred.
On board was:
Captain Adam E. Miller, 29, a Midlothian Cook, Ill., native and UH-1N Huey helicopter pilot. Miller joined the Marine Corps Jan. 26, 1997, participated in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and returned to home from Operation Iraqi Freedom in August.
First Lt. Michael S. Lawlor, 26, a Timonium, Md., native and UH-1N Huey helicopter pilot. Lawlor joined the Marine Corps June 24, 1999, and returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom in September.
Staff Sgt. Lori A. Privette, 27, a Zebulon, N.C., native and Huey helicopter crew chief. Privette joined the Marine Corps Aug. 1, 1994, and returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom in September.
Corporal Joshua D. Harris, 21, a Holiday, Fla., native and Huey helicopter crew chief. Harris joined the Marine Corps Sept. 4, 2001, and returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom in October.
According to Marines of HMLA-169, these four may be physically gone, but their memory lives on. Fellow co-workers and friends collectively emphasized the kind, giving and good-natured characteristics that each of them displayed in their everyday lives.
While family and friends may not get another chance to spend time with these Marines, Capt. John J. Bancroft, assistant logistics officer, S-4, HMLA-169, agrees that memories of these Marines will never die.
Bancroft said Miller aspired to become an instructor at Marine Aviation Weapon Tactics School.
"Only the best Huey pilots go there because there are only five spots," Bancroft said. "I believe he would have made it. He was the best at what he did."
Miller's aspiration to be an instructor gave him the opportunity to help others by sharing his experience and knowledge when he taught and when he talked, Bancroft said.
"He was an incredible teacher," Bancroft emphasized. "He was one of those people who knew how to reach others. Everybody loved him. He was wise beyond his years."
Although Miller was able to reach people, he never involved himself in any trivial arguments. Instead, he would simply find something to do to keep his mind occupied, Bancroft continued.
"We shared the same tent in Iraq and whenever the drama began, he would pick up his Game Boy Advance, which his wife bought him, and play Star Wars Episode 2," Bancroft said. "He used it to separate himself from the action."
Bancroft added that Miller also loved playing basketball and was very competitive at it.
In Bancroft's eyes, Miller was an outstanding Marine. His most striking Marine quality was his self-discipline.
"He never complained about anything," Bancroft said. "When others (complained) about being hungry, he kept quiet."
"I guess it was a part of his internal toughness because he knew if he complained others would follow," Bancroft added.
Bancroft mentioned that Miller was always eager to recover any time he lost with his wife because he was dedicated to her.
"He knew the Marine Corps came first because it took care of his family," Bancroft explained. "He would always be home cooking dinner to make up for the moments he missed due to late nights at work."
According to Bancroft, the Marine Corps is scheduled to receive new helicopters in the upcoming years and he believes that if any one would have been the commanding officer for that squadron, it would have been Miller.
"He was just that good," he exclaimed.
Lawlor was also a good person, Marine and husband, said 1st Lt. Fletcher C. Tidwell, assistant S-1, HMLA-169.
"He was a Marine's Marine and a guy's guy at the same time," he said. "He was a very down to earth kind of guy."
Lawlor enjoyed the simple things life had to offer and had a lot of pride for his background, Tidwell said.
"He was Irish and was really proud of his family heritage," Tidwell said. "He liked drinking a beer and having a good time. He loved little things like going camping and working on his Jeep Wrangler CJ6, which he was rebuilding."
Tidwell mentioned that because Lawlor had a down to earth attitude, he was very open to new ideas, and because of that, his subordinates and superiors loved him.
"We went through Officer Candidate School together," Tidwell said. "He was a very good student, but he was always humble. He always liked to say he didn't know anything."
Tidwell said that Lawlor was 100 percent dedicated to the Marine Corps, but honored his wife first. They had recently celebrated their one-year anniversary.
Privette, the Marine Corps' first female Huey helicopter crew chief and crew chief instructor, also helped inspire many to go on when times got rough, according to Staff Sgt. Jeffrey W. Johnson, quality assurance representative, quality assurance section, HMLA-169.
"She was always available to her friends and Marines," Johnson said. "When I felt like everything was going wrong, she would talk to me and I would become the happiest man in the world. Privette always had a positive attitude."
According to Johnson, what he remembered most about Privette was the way her work uniform fit.
"It seemed as if she was a kid playing dress up because her flight suit fit so bulky on her that it looked like her waist belt was hanging down way beyond her waist," he said with a laugh.
Johnson said that no one ever knew Privette's next move because she was always seeking new challenges.
"She started learning how to surf and was doing pretty good, but she didn't really have set goals because her personality changed every day," Johnson explained. "Privette was always coming up with new things to tackle."
Johnson felt if there is a lesson to be learned from Privette's life it would be to never leave your friends behind.
"This is a quality that sometimes I let fall to the wayside and I shouldn't," he said. "Not Lori, she always had time for friends. She listened."
Privette's most significant quality may have been her individuality, Johnson said.
"She was able to touch everyone in a different way," he said sighing. "There is no best way to describe her. She was just Lori."
Harris' good-natured characteristics helped brighten up gloomy days, said Lance Cpl. Chris B. Davis, flight line mechanic, flight line section, HMLA-169.
"It was all about how he carried himself," Davis said. "He was very confident and knew exactly what to do to make me laugh."
According to Davis, Harris taught him what it was to be a good friend. Davis explained about an incident where Harris drove all the way into Los Angeles to pick up his girlfriend.
"All I did was call him and he was willing to help," Davis said. "No one had ever done anything like this for me before."
Harris loved riding his 1996 Suzuki GS6 750 motorcycle, said Lance Cpl. Mark P. Fox, a flight line mechanic, flight section, HMLA-169.
"He always thought he was a faster and a better rider than everyone else," Fox said.
Davis and Fox both said that Harris would be missed most for the crazy things he said and did.
"He once ate 10 sticks of butter for $10," Davis shared.
In Davis' and Fox' opinions, Harris simply enjoyed making people laugh.
"Sometimes we'd laugh with him, but most of the time we were laughing at him, because he was so funny," Fox said. "(On top of that) he said things like ‘whatever dog' and ‘let's go ride bikes' with his funny Kentucky accent."
According to Davis and Fox, if there was a lesson to be learned from Harris' life, it was to not let the little things bother you.
"To him someone always had it worse," Davis said. "If your bike is falling over it's best to slam it down to the side (opposite) the exhaust."
Davis explained that this was how Harris looked at life. "Shiny side up."
According to the friends of the departed Marines, although they were lost, they will never be forgotten. They all agreed with Davis when he said, "Without them, there will definitely be an empty space left unfilled."