BILLINGS - Earlier this week two Black Hawk helicopters collided in Kentucky, killing nine U.S. Army service members. And while that crash may have happened more than 1,500 miles away, it's saddening veterans in Yellowstone County.
Jen Lorenz, a Laurel woman, enlisted in the Montana National Guard in 1998 and served 16 years as a helicopter mechanic and technical inspector before retiring in 2014. She worked on UH1H (Huey), Chinook, and Black Hawk helicopters.
“I joined in ’98 before 9/11 happened, and I guess I’ve always wanted to live a life of service. Montana girl through and through," Lorenz told MTN News on Thursday. "But I wanted to be able to go somewhere and do something else, to make sure that when I came back here, that this is where I really wanted it to be."
Lorenz explained she enjoyed her time in the service and has lasting love for the aviation community.
"Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but I had fun. And working with the camaraderie that’s in aviation, makes it so, you know, it doesn’t seem like you’re in the drudges," Lorenz said. “Just being in that whole environment and having a mission, it was just fulfilling."
The news of Wednesday night's crash left Lorenz feeling devastated and searching for answers.
“As a whole, it’s just devastating. The aviation community, National Guard, active duty, it’s all super small. We all go to school together, we all know each other," Lorenz said.
"We all work in coordination with each other from state to state and the active duty. Just knowing that it could possibly be some of our friends that we’ve known and things like that," Lorenz continued. "Plus, the people on active duty are pretty young, so it’s just a tragedy all the way around.”
Lorenz said she was scrolling through her news feed when she read the news.
“I was browsing through one of my news apps and it popped up. It always gives me a gut punch. You always worry about who it is," Lorenz said. "I am always impatient because I want to know what happened. Part of the responsibility of being quality assurance is to evaluate those crashes. Evaluate the crash damage and things like that.”
According to Brigadier General John Lubas, the deputy commander of the Kentucky-based 101st Airborne Division, notifications to families are still being made and an investigation is underway.
“I would like to express our deepest sympathies to the families of our fallen soldiers," Lubas said in a press conference on Thursday. "We are currently in the process of notifying their families. Until these notifications are complete, we are unable to provide specific details about our soldiers."
The governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear, also spoke at the press conference in Kentucky on Thursday.
“Today is a tough and a tragic day," Beshear said. "For Kentucky, for the Fort Campbell, and for the 101st."
It's a tragic day for Kentucky —a nd for aviation veterans everywhere—like Jen Lorenz.
“You really never know. There’s so many different things that could go wrong. I mean it could be catastrophic failure. They were flying in a flight of two. One could have had a mechanical problem, and they fly so close, sometimes the reaction time's not there. Especially at night when you’re in night vision goggles," Lorenz said.
“The one thing that the military is really good at, especially the Army, is we do kind of case studies. And so we go back and we look to see if it was mechanical. We look to see if there’s a pattern for aircraft parts," Lorenz continued. "Or if there was something done in the procedures. We always go back and we re-evaluate it to try and make it so we try and prevent the next accident, if at all possible."
To learn more about the crash, click here.
“We do everything we can to try and ensure that all of our training is safe and stuff like that," Lorenz said. "But unfortunately, you know, accidents do happen."