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Local Chaplain Leads Emotional Service For Slain Pope Airman

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ARLINGTON, VA. — Arlington National Cemetery was the site for Friday's emotional tribute to a Pope airman killed in combat in Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Scott Sather was killed two weeks ago in Iraq - the first airman killed in the war. The 29-year-old Michigan native earned seven medals, including the bronze star, during his Air Force career.

"Scott's a great American," said Maj. Robert Armfield. "He was a hard-charging guy. He wanted to be the best at what he did, and that's why he became an Air Force combat controller."

Combat controllers are an elite group of fighters who lead allied aircraft to enemy targets. There are only about 300 controllers, a group that had not suffered a war casualty until last year.

Chaplain Mark Thomas, a Sampson County native grew up near the base, works with the controllers. He also conducted Friday's service.

"What I try to do is focus on the fact of their faith," Thomas said. "I try to help them out with hope."

Thomas said burial services like Friday's are never easy for anyone.

"Seeing children and young brides," he said, "knowing they paid such a sacrifice for our freedoms."

A fellow controller said two deaths in the unit in just more than a year is tough to take.

"All you can think about is what you are in the military for and what you are doing," said Tech Sgt. Westley Brooks, "and that's defending the freedoms we all have."

Thomas' job is to offer hope for the future, even when it seems impossible to reach.

"It's rewarding, in a sense," he said, "knowing we've been able to establish some hope with them that tomorrow will come, and they'll be able to walk through this."

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