The widow of the first Utah pilot to die in the Persian Gulf wept quietly Friday as her newlywed husband was eulogized as a man who led his flight group with wit and courage.
About 300 people, most wives of members of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, attended a 30-minute memorial service for Capt. Michael L. Chinburg, who died Tuesday when his F-16 jet crashed during a nighttime training exercise in eastern Saudi Arabia."He was the kind of guy who would say things everyone else wanted to," said Capt. Mark Engeman, like Chinburg a member of the 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron. "Every group has a person that keeps them together and brings them back to reality, and he was ours."
The family of Chinburg, 26, of Durham, N.H., did not attend the service at the base chapel, planning instead a private ceremony at home.
Chinburg, an ROTC-commissioned member of the 388th since the spring of 1989, arrived in Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield on Dec. 21 with a portion of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, which is experienced in day and night flight.
Engeman said Chinburg studied for endless hours when he was preparing to assume a role as flight leader of four aircraft.
"He really had the confidence to lead, but he liked to look at things in a different way and was always thinking about outside ideas," Engeman said.
He said Chinburg also was a man who spared no effort for his many friends and for his wife, April. The couple were married in September.
"April, you were always his first consideration. When I talked to him the night before he left for the Middle East, he didn't want to talk about his friends or his work, but he spoke of the best Christmas he had ever had. He really loved you a lot," Engeman said.
During the hymn "Air Force Wings" sung by the congregation and an Air Force choir, Chinburg's beloved dog, a Shelty-Labrador mix named Burolli who sat near Mrs. Chinburg during the service, whined and licked her face.
The service was performed by two Roman Catholic chaplains who wove biblical verse into their words of comfort for the family and friends.
"As we mourn the sudden death of our brother, show us the immense power of your goodness and strengthen our belief that Michael has entered into your presence," said Capt. Robert B. Dunn.
An honor guard performed the flag ceremony in the base chapel, a modern structure with vaulted walls and stained glass windows.
The Air Force wives, who filled seven rows, also cried and reached forward to touch Mrs. Chinburg and pat the dog during the ceremony.
Reporters were not permitted any contact with mourners and were isolated in a balcony of the chapel and escorted at all times by uniformed men and women.
Chinburg's death was the first of an Air Force member since Oct. 10, when a two-man crew of an F-111 fighter-bomber died in a crash during a low-level training flight.
Ninety-seven U.S. military personnel have died since the operation began on Aug. 7. Most of the 57 deaths in the gulf region have resulted from accidents.