Competition of physical, mental strength honors 31 fallen heroes


On August 6, 2011, two U.S. Army CH-47D Chinook helicopters, named Extortion 16 and Extortion 17, took off into the night sky from a remote location in Afghanistan. One of those helicopters, Extortion 17, would not return, nor would the 31 military members on board. Shortly after liftoff, the Chinook was shot down by an RPG from Taliban fighters, killing the entire crew.

Luke Thunderbolts participated in a competition of strength and mental toughness to honor these 31 heroes who lost their lives during the single greatest loss of American life in the Afghan war.

“We always do workouts to symbolize our fallen heroes,” said Sherri Biringer, 56th Force Support Squadron fitness specialist supervisor. “The event was developed in 2012. CrossFit boxes and military installations continue to do this event honoring the fallen. This year we took it one step further, made it a challenge and invited everyone who would not know about it otherwise.”

Staff Sgt. Michael Harkavi, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordinance disposal team leader, was stationed in Afghanistan during the time of the crash and also participated in the 31 heroes event at Luke.

“I was there to actually pickup and help transfer the remains of the fallen to get shipped back home to their families,” Harkavi said. “It’s important that we remember and for everyone else to realize what happened and how many people were impacted from that day.”

The event was held in the Combat PT tent on Friday, August 4. The competition consisted of a variation of thrusters, rope climbs, box jumps and a run. Three different sessions took place in which Airmen performed as many rounds as possible of each exercise in 31 minutes.

“This event was originally developed to help the families of these heroes,” Biringer said. “Later, it would help raise awareness of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. The event is long and grueling, but brings out mental and physical toughness in everyone. The impact it holds is to build a stronger community. One that can stand beside each other in good times and bad.”

The crew on board Extortion 17 consisted of 13 military members from SEAL Team Six, two other Navy SEALS, five Navy special operations members, three Air Force special tactics Airmen, seven Afghan National Army commandos and one military working dog.

“These heroes have left behind more than just a story, they have given us a legacy to honor,” Biringer said. “This competition helps us ensure the mission to honor the fallen lives on and veterans are not forgotten when they return home. We have to be a wingman to everyone.”