Updated: May 17, 2011 at 12:00 am
Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins made a promise when his long-time friend, Maj. David Brodeur, was sent overseas to train Afghani pilots.
The two had flown single-seat jets side-by-side in the skies above Alaska. So when Brodeur left, Atkins pledged to continue looking over his family.
“I didn’t realize my promise would be as enduring as it is now,” Atkins said.
Amid tears and a “missing man” flyover, Brodeur’s casket was lowered on Tuesday into the ground of the Air Force Academy Cemetery. He was killed in a shooting by an Afghani pilot on April 27.
Brodeur was one of eight airmen, as well as a contractor, to die in the attack at Kabul International Airport.
Maj. Philip Ambard, a foreign-language professor at the Air Force Academy, also was killed.
The grass on his grave had yet to sprout when Brodeur was laid to rest a few feet to the east.
“He just always had a sense of humor,” Atkins said of Brodeur. “He was truly, truly liked by everybody.”
Born in Massachusetts, Brodeur honed his piloting skills at the Air Force Academy, where he graduated in 1999. A year later, he married his wife, Susan, in the academy’s Cadet Chapel.
“His wife and his two kids — that was his life,” Atkins said.
They moved to Anchorage, Alaska, where Brodeur served as Atkin’s executive officer at the 11th Air Force at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
While there, he flew with the 18th Aggressor Squadron — a team of ace pilots who harass and pick fights with U.S. Air Forces in simulated attacks, preparing them for combat.
But when not bending the laws of physics inside a jet, he often went camping with his squadron’s commander, Lt. Col. Andrew Hansen. Just before Brodeur left for Afghanistan, the two joined a few other families for a multi-day camping trip in Denali National Park.
After the graveside service, Hansen reminisced about “Clepto’s” piloting skills — a nickname offered with a smile and little explanation.
“He represented the pinnacle or the epitome of everything I’d like to have as a fighter pilot,” Hansen said.
Brodeur planned to use those piloting skills at the helm of an Air Force Thunderbird. He was in the process of applying for the post, said Atkins, who wrote Brodeur’s letter of recommendation.
“Unfortunately, his dream was cut short,” Atkins said.
While Brodeur’s dog tags swayed in the breeze next to his casket, his wife, children and parents were handed the medals he earned while in Afghanistan: a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a Combat Action Ribbon.
Then Thomas Gills, a priest at the ceremony, offered a few words.
“Your earthly mission is now done,” Gills said. “The time has come to claim your place above.”
Having offered his prayers, the priest stepped aside before “Taps” broke the silence.
Overhead, four F-16s made their way over his casket, one of them breaking off from the pack and heading higher into the sky.
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