OFF THE COAST OF MOROCCO -- Marines and Sailors from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group gathered together to honor Cpl. Derek Kerns and Cpl. Robby Reyes during a memorial ceremony aboard the USS Iwo Jima April 18.
Kerns and Reyes died during a training accident in Morocco, April 11, when the MV-22 Osprey they were flying in crashed while participating in the bi-lateral training exercise called African Lion 12. Both Marines were crew chiefs with the 24th MEU’s aviation element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron VMM-261 (Reinforced), based out of Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. The memorial took place in the ship’s hangar bay, where Marines and Sailors stood in formation centered around photos of the two Marines against the backdrop of a clear sky and blue water. Two of Kerns’ and Reyes’ fellow crew chiefs shared a few words and stories about their friends during the ceremony. Lance Cpl. Michael Garrison, who had known Kerns since air crew school, described him to the crowd as a “skinny kid from Jersey who always had a story for everything that was going on.” “I knew him for three-and-a-half years; it doesn’t seem real,” said Garrison. “He was an outstanding friend, an outstanding father, husband, crew chief and brother to everybody. There was never a down time with him; he was always happy.” Cpl. Lucas Schmidt stepped to the podium and explained that Reyes “wasn’t the kind of guy who stuck out in a crowd. And that’s the way he liked it.” He described his friend by informing the Marines and Sailors that Reyes extended his enlistment to remain a VMM-261 “Raging Bull” for the current 24th MEU deployment, and that when others complained about what seemed like meaningless work, Reyes would roll with it and laugh it off. “I will never forget him, and we could all learn a thing or two from a man like Robby Reyes,” said Schmidt. Toward the end of the ceremony, Sgt. Maj. Ricky Jackson, the senior enlisted Marine for VMM-261 (reinforced), marched front and center of his Marines, stood at attention and conducted a ceremonial roll call. This procedure consisted of Marines within the unit responding to the sergeant major as he called their names. When Jackson called Kerns’ and Reyes’ names, there was only silence. Roll call was followed by the playing of “Taps” and a three-shot-volley rifle salute. Lt. Col. Brian Smith Jr., the commanding officer of VMM-261 (reinforced), who had flown recently with both Kerns and Reyes, honored them by defining a crew chief’s role in the Marine Corps. Airplanes require constant work and it doesn’t matter whether it’s hot, cold, or raining. A crew chief’s job is extremely underappreciated, but they’re the reason aircraft keep flying and they do it with a smile on their face, he said. Col. Frank Donovan, commanding officer of the 24th MEU, paid homage to Kerns and Reyes by focusing the Marines and Sailors of the 24th MEU on the future. “Today we honor them through words; tomorrow we honor them through actions,” he said. Smith’s comments to the Marines concluded in similar fashion. “There’s no greater way to honor Kerns and Reyes than to continue to do the things we’ve already done. Everyone counts on us, and I count on you,” he said. “The next time we do something amazing… I can look at each one of you in the eye and know that we’re honoring their memory. Because that’s exactly what they would have wanted.”