James Michael Steel
April 3, 2013
Died in the crash of an F-16 near Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
|From The Tampa Tribune tbo.com 05/05/13:
Air Force captain from Tampa killed in Afghanistan
By Howard Altman | Tribune Staff
Published: April 5, 2013
Air Force Capt. James Michael Steel, who was born in Tampa while his father served as an F-16 pilot at MacDill Air Force Base, followed the family tradition.
Like his dad, Steel, 29, also became an Air Force F-16 pilot.
But on Wednesday, he was killed in an F-16 crash near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense.
Steel, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2006, was assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. After completing pilot training, he arrived at Shaw in June 2010. He was the chief of mobility for the 77th.
His father, Robert P. Steel, rose to the rank of major general, according to Steel's brother, Christopher.
Steel lived in Tampa for about two years, said Christopher Steel, who was also born in the Tampa area.
James Steel had a twin brother, Jonathan, according to Christopher Steel.
Steel's mother, Dee Steel, was also an Air Force Academy graduate.
Dee and Robert Steel have five children, four of whom followed the family's Air Force legacy, according to an Air Force publication.
“James and Jonathan, who are our first set of twins, both went to the academy, one year apart,” Steel's father told the Thunderbolt in an April 10, 2009, story.
“James is ahead of Jonathan by one year, who is at Laughlin finishing up his undergraduate pilot training. Their younger brother, Christopher, graduated the academy as well and is going to medical school at the Uniform Services University in Bethesda, Md. Out of our youngest set of twins, Paul is in basic training wanting to be a (joint terminal attack controller). And our oldest son, Bob, is in the process of applying for an officer training school slot.”
Just after 11 p.m. local time, Steel's F-16 lost contact with its wingman and the tower as it was aligning for final approach to Bagram Airfield, according to Chief MSgt. Tyler Foster, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces Central.
The accident happened about 10 miles south of the airfield, Foster said. There was no indication of enemy activity at the time.
The cause of the accident is under investigation, Foster said.
On the Facebook page of Steel's wing, in a post dedicated to his death, the words “Once a gambler, always a gambler” appear next to his name. His death has saddened the base, according to his commander.
“Our condolences and prayers are with the family, friends and squadron members of Capt. Steel,” said Col. Clay Hall, 20th Fighter Wing commander. “This is a difficult time for Shaw Air Force Base, but we are focused on taking care of the Steel family, our airmen and continuing to execute the mission.”
|from The AirForce Times airforcetimes.com 05/14/13:
Family remembers pilot killed in F-16 crash
Apr. 14, 2013 - 10:28AM
On a beach at Camp Pendleton, Calif., in 1988, James Steel, a 4-year-old with messy blond hair and a squint, ran straight for the waves. Big brother Bobby and little brother Chris, and James' twin, Jonathan — all in matching swim trunks — headed back toward shore.
The moment, captured in a photograph, reminds the boys' mother how James, though not the oldest, took the lead from the very beginning. Every Christmas, James told his siblings — four brothers and a sister — what gifts they would get their parents and how much they each owed.
From as far back as Dee Steel can remember, her fearless son wanted to be an F-16 pilot like his father, retired Maj. Gen. Robert Steel, former commandant of the National War College. James Steel ran cross country and track in high school, graduated valedictorian and, like both parents, went on to the Air Force Academy, where he was commander of the same squadron to which his mom and dad belonged more than two decades before.
Capt. James Steel, 29, died April 3 in an F-16 crash while returning from a close-air support mission at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. It was the first deployment for the chief of mobility for the 77th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air force Base, S.C., his mother said. He was due to come home in just three weeks.
The Air Force has said there was no enemy activity in the area at the time his F-16 lost contact with its wingman and the tower as it readied for a final approach to Bagram about 11 p.m. local time. The crash remains under investigation.
For now, James Steel's family is preparing for memorial services.
“It's kind of like a bad dream,” Dee Steel said. “[The reality] hits sometimes, and sometimes we can just enjoy the memories.”
An Air Force family
James Steel seemed destined for a career in the military. Both of his grandfathers were Air Force veterans. Dee Steel's father served in the Vietnam War and retired as a colonel. Maj. Gen. Steel's father served as the deputy surgeon general of the Air Force, retiring as a two-star.
The couple met at the Air Force Academy. Dee Steel was part of the first class of women admitted to the school. Father and son both served as commanders of Cadet Squadron 28. Today, both names are engraved in the squadron assembly area.
Dee Steel spent four years in the Air Force, leaving after the birth of James and Jonathan. “It was a good thing, because [they] never slept through the night before they were a year old,” she recalled with a laugh.
Maj. Gen. Steel retired in January 2011.
“They grew up on fighter Air Force bases around the world,” Dee Steel said of the couple's children. “They grew up watching fighters take off and land in their backyards. I think it's in their blood.”
Four of the six Steel children pursued Air Force careers. Three are Air Force Academy graduates.
James Steel, as was his fashion, went first, graduating in 2006. While at the academy, he considered becoming a doctor, Dee Steel said.
“But he just got more intent on flying. He loved it. That's what he wanted. He wanted to be an F-16 pilot like his dad. That was his first choice out of pilot training,” his mom recalled. “We were very proud of him. We were excited he had chosen that route.”
James Steel didn't write off a medical career altogether, though, recently contacting a family friend, the commander of an Air Force hospital, about becoming a flight surgeon.
Jonathan Steel followed his twin one year later at the academy. The former C-17 pilot is stationed at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., where he is part of the Predator program.
Younger brother Chris, a doctor, is a 2008 academy graduate. He will soon begin his residency at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. The youngest of the Steel boys, Paul, is a joint terminal attack controller, or JTAC, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. He and his wife are expecting their first child, a boy, next month, Dee Steel said.
They will name him after James.
Deployment about to end
There is another photograph of James Steel his mother treasures. He is on another beach, this time all grown up, smiling and squinting into the sunlight as he tosses a football. A dog runs at his heel.
“He was always smiling, always happy,” Dee Steel said. In the photograph, posted by a friend on his Facebook page, “you can see it in his face. He loved life. I think he lived two days for every one day. He just got the most out of every day.”
James Steel taught himself to play the guitar. He liked to sky-dive. “He loved to work out. He loved fishing,” Dee Steel said.
She remembered a recent family vacation to a North Carolina beach: James Steel rented a boat so he and his siblings could go fishing. The boat took on water when they were idle, but then would empty out when they moved.
“He didn't realize there was a plug [for] the boat,” Dee Steel said. They were about to come in to shore when James and his twin brother insisted on one more cast. The boat sank.
The Steels still laugh about that.
James Steel last spoke with his family five days before his death. It was Good Friday, March 29. He was upbeat, as usual, and excited to get home after nearly six months in Afghanistan. They talked about what they'd do once they were all together again: See a sporting event, go to an oyster bar they enjoyed.
Now, on what should have been her son's return, Dee Steel will travel to Colorado Springs, Colo. She'll meet her former Air Force Academy roommate and together with as many folks as they can rally, they will hike Eagle's Peak, a picturesque summit that overlooks the campus and seems to touch the sky where her son once flew.
|From The Tampa Bay Times tampabay.com 058/05/13:
Air Force pilot killed in crash in Afghanistan
Keeley Sheehan, Times Staff Writer
Friday, April 5, 2013 12:47pm
Capt. James M. Steel, 29, was killed when his F-16 crashed near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, officials said. He was assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina in 2010.
Steel was inbound from an air support mission when he crashed about 10 miles from Bagram Airfield, the Stars and Stripes website reported. He lost contact with his wingman and the control tower during final approach, an Air Force Central Command spokesperson told Stars and Stripes .
Steel and his family lived in Tampa while his father, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Steel, was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in the 1980s. The family moved to Las Vegas when Steel was about 3 years old, his brother Christopher Steel said Friday.
The family also lived in Virginia and Germany, he said. Steel's parents now live in Virginia.
James Steel had a twin brother, Jonathan, and three other brothers, Christopher, Paul and Bob, their mother Dee Steel told the Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., newspaper during James' graduation from F-16 training with the 63rd Fighter Squadron in April 2009.
James, Jonathan and Christopher all went to the Air Force Academy, and Paul was in basic training at the time, while Bob was applying to enter officer training, according to the newspaper report. Dee Steel is also an Air Force Academy graduate.
When James Steel graduated at Luke in 2009, his father spoke at the ceremony.
"Since I was little, I got to watch my dad take off and see him come back from deployments," James told the newspaper when he graduated. "It is cool to actually be doing what he used to do."
Air Force pilot killed in crash in Afghanistan 04/05/13 [Last modified: Friday, April 5, 2013 10:17pm]
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