An Iowan who was the pilot of a helicopter shot down in Iraq Sunday has died. 41-year-old Bruce Smith of West Liberty joined the Iowa Guard in 1980 after graduating from Columbus High School in Columbus Junction. He worked his way through the ranks to become the instructor-pilot for the twin rotor chopper as part of Company F of the 106th aviation unit in Davenport. Smith was flying a mission to ferry troops who were heading home for leave when a rocket took the copter down. Iowa Guard spokesman Colonel Robert King says Smith’s injuries were originally not thought to be life threatening, but things changed, and he later died at a field hospital. Five other crewmembers on Smith’s copter were from Iowa. He says two were treated and sent back to their unit, while three of them were evacuated to a hospital in Germany. Those three are: 35-year-old Sergeant Gerald Santos of Davenport, 39-year-old Sergeant Paul Fisher of Marion and 31-year-old Specialist Chad Baetkey of Bettendorf. King did not know the condition of the three. King says the other crewmember, another pilot from Illinois, died, along with 13 passengers in the helicopter. He says Company F is a split unit between Iowa and Illinois and he says the helicopter involved was an Illinois aircraft. King says Smith had a spotless flying record, and doesn’t doubt his actions may’ve prevented more deaths after the copter was hit. He says he knows that Smith was a professional pilot, and says in his mind he’s positive Smith did everything he could to lessen the impact on the people in the aircraft. Smith leaves behind a wife, son and a daughter. King today read a statement from Smith’s wife. She asked him to say:”I’m very proud of my husband for his service to the country. He touched a lot of lives in the unit and in our local schools and the community.” King says everyone at the Iowa Guard echoes those comments, saying Smith was a “shining star,” a great pilot, friend and mentor to many. King became emotional in talking about Smith and other guardmembers. He says when they’re sent off, they’re sent off as heroes, and he says that’s what they are. King says all the soldiers are heroes because they are a few people doing a lot for many others. He says if you look at the size of the nation compared to the size of the active duty force, there are lot of heroes doing a lot of things for a much bigger population of people. King says they give of themselves and take a huge risk to protect our country. King says the funeral arrangements for Smith will likely be set once it’s known when his body will be returned to the U.S.
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