FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
The American pilot whose F-16 crashed in Iraq earlier this week has close ties to Clovis. Major Troy L. Gilbert, 34, identified by the Air Force on Wednesday, is the son-in-law of Clovis residents Jay and Judi Gurley, according to longtime family friend Martha Hardwick.
Jay Gurley is a former Clovis Community College president. Hardwick said the Gurleys’ daughter, Ginger, met Gilbert while both were attending Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas. They were married at Cannon Air Force Base, Hardwick said, and have five children.
At the time of Monday’s crash, Gilbert was supporting troops fighting in Anbar province, the area of Iraq where many of the country’s Sunni-Arab insurgent groups operate.
Insurgents reached Gilbert before the U.S. military did. Videotape pictures obtained by Associated Press Television News appear to show the wreckage of the F-16CG jet from Cannon Air Force Base in the field where it crashed and the nearby remains of a U.S. serviceman with a tangled parachute.
The Air Combat Command said in a statement that Gilbert was not found at the crash site. Air Force officials said in a news conference Wednesday that there were “human remains retrieved from the crash site.” They would not elaborate, but said figuring out whether Gilbert is dead depended largely on those remains, which were undergoing DNA identification.
The cause of the crash is under investigation. Officials don’t believe it was shot down.
Officials waffled between referring to Gilbert in the present and past tense during a Wednesday news conference at Luke Air Force Base in the western Phoenix suburb of Glendale, Ariz., where Gilbert has been stationed since 2003.
“Everybody liked him … such a hard worker. Everyone here will tell you that. He did what it took to get the mission done,” said Lt. Col. John Paradis, an Air Force spokesman. “He’s someone that we remember very fondly.”
Paradis explained his and another official’s careful wording when referring to Gilbert’s status.
“In situations like this, the Air Force and the Department of Defense want to be extremely careful about drawing any conclusions until we can look at all the facts that we have and everything available to us to make sure the family can have some closure, regardless of what that might be,” Paradis said.
Arizona officials have asked members of the media to not attempt to contact the family for privacy reasons.
The family issued a statement through the military. It read:
“Troy was first and foremost a wonderful husband and father. His Christian faith, personal values, and work ethic guided his personal life and his career as a military officer.
“He was highly respected by and deeply loved by so many. At the time of the tragedy during combat operations, he was unselfishly protecting the lives of other American military members. We, his family, cherish the worldwide prayers and support during this extremely difficult time.”
Gilbert was deployed to the 332nd Expeditionary Wing at Balad Air Force Base in Iraq in September and logged more than 130 combat hours, the Air Force said in a news release.
The release said Gilbert graduated with an economics degree from Texas Tech University in 1993 and graduated from officer training school in August 1994. His first assignment was at Lakenheath Air Base in England.
In January 2001, Gilbert finished undergraduate pilot training at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.
During his time at Luke Air Force Base, Gilbert was assistant director of operations, executive officer of wing flying, a flight commander and chief of training.
“Major Gilbert is well-known here at Luke Air Force Base,” Brig. Gen. Tom Jones said. “He is an outstanding officer, an outstanding pilot, and an outstanding friend to many people here at Luke.”