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Bagram dedicates dining facility to fallen Airman

by Army Capt. Elizabeth Casebeer
Task Force Cincinnatus Public Affairs

7/9/2008 - BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- A dining facility here was dedicated July 6 to fallen Senior Airman Jonathan A.V. Yelner, who was killed in action April 29 while on a combat patrol.

In the sea of digital camouflage during the ceremony, Airman Yelner stood out amongst the crowd of mostly-Army servicemembers -- and those who knew him best often tried to top one another in stories.

Airman Yelner, deployed to Afghanistan from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., died after an improvised explosive device detonated underneath his vehicle while conducting a battle damage assessment with local Afghan tribal leaders in the Kapisa province of Afghanistan.

With the dining facility's dedication, Airman Yelner's name will now be honored here for years to come.

Flanking either side of the dining facility's walkway is a sign depicting the brief timeline of the events of April 29 and of a snapshot of Airman Yelner right before a mission -- where he is seen grinning from ear to ear.

More than 200 fellow servicemembers attended the dedication.

Already having a deployment to Iraq under his belt, Airman Yelner volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan, this time for one year with a Provincial Reconstruction Team.

His team was comprised of Airmen and Soldiers from around the country.

Army Capt. Casey McCausland clearly recalled driving with Airman Yelner to his Friday-night temple services prior to deploying to Afghanistan and how the younger man would act a bit cocky on the ride. It wasn't until the team arrived in Afghanistan, after nearly two months of training, that Captain McCausland noticed how much Airman Yelner was beginning to excel.

"He volunteered to go to Tag Ab Valley as my driver," said Captain McCausland, who acknowledged the majority of his team is comprised of tactically-trained Soldiers -- a group of men used to "roughing it" on forward operating bases. This did not seem to deter Airman Yelner, who jumped on board and quickly proved himself worthy.

"After about a month in Tag Ab, we came back to (Bagram) to rearm and refit," Captain McCausland said. "People noticed in that short amount of time how Yelner was more on-track, a different person. He just carried himself better."

In that short amount of time, Captain McCausland said the team counted on Airman Yelner -- a model Airman who took his job as a driver in a particularly dangerous part of Afghanistan very seriously.

"We could always count on (Airman Yelner) to have the truck ready way ahead of time," Captain McCausland said. "He took pride in getting the truck ready, filling the radio, and other things outside his duty description. Even though he was not a gunner, he (also) took time to clean the crew-served weapons."

It's been more than two months since Airman Yelner was killed and Captain McCausland is not sure anybody can come close to filling the Airman's boots.

"The cohesion we had as a team -- it's just not the same anymore," he said sadly.

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