2-Mar-2021 Source: New York Army National Guard
Chief Warrant Officers Steven Skoda, Christian Koch and Daniel Prial were “three of our best,” according to Maj. Voley Martin, the commander of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation.The men had been conducting night vision goggle training when the crash occurred in Mendon, New York.
The Army Safety Center is investigating the incident.
Four hundred and fifty people filled the hanger in widely separated chairs, including the families of the three men and first responders to the crash site.
General Daniel Hokanson, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau joined New York Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Ray Shields in paying tribute to the three aviators.
Commanders of the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade, the 642nd Aviation Support Battalion, Charlie Company and friends of the three men remembered them in remarks.
The event was live streamed by two Rochester television stations.
The three warrant officers “were the same type of person but at different stages of their career and life,” said Col. Michael Charnley, commander of the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade.
Skoda, 54, was the pilot who had already done everything in his long career and was now devoting himself to medical rescue missions. Koch, 39, a married father of four, was in the prime of his career. Prial, 29, was the newcomer with endless potential, he said.
“I hope we all take the best of them and move forward,” Charnley said.
The loss of such flying experience and unit leadership feels catastrophic, Martin noted.
“I lost three friends on January 20th, but operationally, we lost three generations of knowledge and experience,” he said.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch, a traditional Guardsmen who also flew for the New York State Police, had just reached the pinnacle of his career, serving as the unit senior instructor pilot.
Koch was a 20-year veteran of the New York Army National Guard, first serving as an infantryman in Alpha Company of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry. He became a helicopter pilot in 2006 and had 2,350 flying hours.
“Christian was one of the toughest, funniest, most genuine people I’ve had the privilege to serve with,” Martin said. “He took time to appreciate and acknowledge the small details of life, and I’m honored to call him my friend.”
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Skoda had flown for 29 of his 35 years of service. He was the former unit senior pilot from 2016 to 2020 with almost 5,000 flying hours.
He was recognized as a mentor for Soldiers of all ranks throughout his career.
“Steve was a legacy, one that had cultivated and shaped the unit and made it what it is today,” Martin said.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Prial had only joined the unit last year as a full-time pilot after eight years of active duty as a commissioned aviation officer.
His career goal was to continue flying as a medical evacuation pilot and he received a warrant officer commission in the New York Army National Guard in May 2020. He had 670 flying hours.
“Dan fit into the company with zero effort,” Martin said. “He came to us as a captain but filled the role of a chief warrant officer and was happy to do so.”
“Dan was an officer of the highest caliber and carried more potential than probably any young officer I have come across,” Martin said.
The three men were well-liked and devoted to the unit mission, the speakers said.
“These men made other people around them better,” said Lt. Col. Sean Hatch, commander of the 642nd Aviation Support Battalion, “and we are better for knowing them, for flying with them and working with them.”
Charnley said the memorial ceremony was an opportunity to celebrate their service, not simply mourn their loss.
“I do know they would not want us to spend too much time in mourning them but to transition to celebrating them and how they lived life,” he said.
“For me, I am going to do my best to emulate how they approached life. Always strive to be upbeat, be genuine, always seek improvement in yourself and help others to be better.”
Hatch said the ceremony is a reaffirmation for fellow Soldiers.
“It is now for us, the living, that we are dedicated to the great task of honoring their legacies and their memories as we take increased devotion to serving that which they committed their lives,” Hatch said. “Flying, serving and saving lives.”
“Steve, Christian and Dan not only laid down their lives for their friends, but for dozens of Soldiers and civilians across the globe,” Hatch said.
“That’s who these men were – medevac pilots whose mission and passion was to save lives. They loved flying. They loved their fellow Soldiers, their families, and they loved America.”