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James Steel

by Wayne Thume on March 2, 2015

Since its inception, each month LHCP has honored a military service member who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. Every box which is shipped from LHCP is labeled with information about the Honoree. The monthly Honoree’s story is attached to the box so others can read about those who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom. This month’s Honoree is Air Force Capt. James Steel.

James Steel


Air Force Capt James M. Steel
KIA April 3, 2013
Operation Enduring Freedom
Assigned to 77th Fighter Squadron, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina

Air Force Capt. James Steel died April 3, 2013 in the crash of an F-16 near Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. While returning to the airfield from a close-air support mission, Capt. Steel was flying his F-16 low to prepare for landing but could not see the mountain in his flight path due to poor weather conditions. According to the crash investigation report, Steel’s plane had a low altitude warning that sounded before he crashed. However, his Predictive Ground Collision Avoidance System did not warn him about the mountain because it was not connected to the digital terrain database. Capt. Steel began to pull up when the PGCAS emitted an altitude warning, but not enough to avoid the mountain. Capt. Steel was on his first deployment to Afghanistan and was due to come home in just three weeks.

“He was always smiling, always happy,” James’ mother, Dee Steel, said, “He loved life. I think he lived two days for every one day. He just got the most out of every day.” Dee recalls that though James was not the oldest of his four brothers and one sister, he took the lead from the very beginning. Every Christmas, James told his siblings what gifts they would get their parents and how much they each owed him. James taught himself to play guitar, had a love for skydiving, working out, and fishing.

From as far back as Dee can remember her fearless son wanted to be an F-16 pilot like his father, retired Air Force Major General Robert Steel. James’ mother had also spent 4 years in the Air Force, as well as both grandfathers, who were Air Force veterans. James ran cross country and track in high school, graduated valedictorian and, like both his parents, went on to the Air Force Academy where he was commander of the same squadron to which his mom and dad belonged more than two decades before. Col. Clay Hall said, “Mano [Steel’s call sign] was proud of serving his country, proud of being an F-16 pilot and proud of being a ‘Gambler.’” Col. Shaun McGrath, 20th Operations Group Commander, honored Capt. Steel by allowing members of the 20th OG to wear 77th FS “Gambler” red and black t-shirts under their duty uniforms. On an internet post dedicated to James, the words “Once a gambler, always a gambler” appear next to his name.
Capt. James Steel was 29 years old from Tampa, Florida

https://americanfallensoldiers.com

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I Salute You; Air Force Captain James M. Steel
Mankato Times
Air Force Captain James M. Steel, 29, of Tampa, Florida died April 3 in the crash of an F-16 near Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
Captain James M. Steel was assigned to 77th Fighter Squadron, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina and was serving during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Steel graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2006, completed pilot training and arrived at Shaw in June 2010. He was the chief of mobility for the squadron, which provides close air support for U.S. and coalition troops on the ground.
Steel is the son of retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Steel, former commandant of the National War College in Washington. Steel’s mother, Dee, twin brother, Jonathan, and younger brother Christopher are also Air Force Academy graduates, according to an article from the Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., newspaper and the Air Force Times.
“Capt. Steel was an outstanding young officer who loved being a fighter pilot – it was obvious from the moment you met him,” said Col. Clay Hall, 20th FW commander. “He was well liked and respected within the Shaw community; subordinates, peers and supervisors alike. Mano [Steel’s call sign] was proud of serving his country, proud of being an F-16 pilot and proud of being a Gambler. He served his country with honor and made the supreme sacrifice. Mano will be missed, but not forgotten.”
“Capt. Steel was an absolute pleasure to work with as a student. I wish I had more students just like him,” said Sanetta Holder, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University-Shaw Campus. “He was a good student and a great friend. I’m going to miss him coming in the door smiling, telling me he’s ready to register for the next class.”
James Steel taught himself to play the guitar. He liked to sky-dive. “He loved to work out. He loved fishing,” Dee Steel said.
Steel is survived by mother, father, and five brothers and sisters.


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Captain James M. Steel, I Salute You.

By Capt. Ann Blodzinski
20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
4/9/2013 – SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. — On April 5, 2013, Shaw AFB flags were slowly brought to half-staff at noon honoring a fallen 20th Fighter Wing combat Airman.

The Airman, 77th Fighter Squadron pilot, Capt. James Steel, died April 3, 2013, after his F-16 Fighting Falcon crashed in Afghanistan. He is the first 20th FW aviator lost in combat since 1945 during World War II in England.
The flags at Shaw AFB remained at half-staff throughout the weekend in observance of Capt. Steel’s final trip home.
“Capt. Steel was an outstanding young officer who loved being a fighter pilot – it was obvious from the moment you met him,” said Col. Clay Hall, 20th FW commander. “He was well liked and respected within the Shaw community; subordinates, peers and supervisors alike. Mano [Steel’s call sign] was proud of serving his country, proud of being an F-16 pilot and proud of being a Gambler. He served his country with honor and made the supreme sacrifice. Mano will be missed, but not forgotten.”

On Monday April 8, 2013, Col. Shaun McGrath, 20th Operations Group commander, honored Capt. Steel by allowing members of the 20th OG to wear 77th FS “Gambler” red and black t-shirts under their duty uniforms.
The 77th FS has been deployed since the fall of 2012. In total, Capt. Steel flew 85 combat missions; his efforts in combat saved American and coalition service members’ lives, according to Lt. Col. Johnny Vargas, 77th FS commander.
“He flew with great passion and as sad as his loss is, know that Mano died doing what he loved to do,” said Lt. Col. Vargas. “He died serving his country, protecting his fellow service members, and accomplishing our nation’s objectives. He died a fighter pilot. A hero.”

As a base, Shaw has had to keep moving forward, accomplishing the mission. However, you can see and feel the loss everywhere you go.

“Mano was the finest American and patriot warrior,” said Lt. Col. Scott Shepard, former 20th Operations Support Squadron commander. “He worked extremely hard enhancing the combat readiness of the 20th FW during his tour in my squadron as the chief of air-to-surface programs. Mano never said ‘no’ or ‘I can’t’ and never tried to deflect even the most difficult tasking. He was happy, friendly, funny, ever so patriotic, and loved flying the mighty F-16 Viper like you can’t even imagine. This young man was truly cream of the crop and there’s no explanation on this earth why he was chosen to depart this world early. He will be sorely missed.”
Capt. Steel, a 2006 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, is remembered throughout base, not just the 20th OG. The exuberant pilot befriended everyone he met.
“Capt. Steel was an absolute pleasure to work with as a student. I wish I had more students just like him,” said Sanetta Holder, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University-Shaw Campus. “He was a good student and a great friend. I’m going to miss him coming in the door smiling, telling me he’s ready to register for the next class.”
The families of the Gamblers back home also mourn Capt. Steel’s loss, here in Sumter, as do those whose lives Mano touched at previous Air Force assignments. The news of the crash resulted in an outpouring of support from the F-16 community, the Sumter community and more.

“I have been stationed at a number of locations through my 17 years in the Air Force. I can honestly say that nowhere else have I felt more close and more cared for by a community than in Sumter,” said Lt. Col. Vargas. “The support that has been provided by our community to our Gambler family throughout this tragedy has been incredible. We cannot thank the Sumter community enough for helping us through our loss.”

As the Gamblers wind down their deployment, they look forward to returning home and celebrating Capt. Steel; he was the friend who always wore a smile and made you laugh, Vargas said.

“Mano will always be a part of our lives and I can tell you that from this day until our very last, every member of the Gambler family will hold him in a special place in their hearts.”

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