KAHULUI - A C-17 military transport brought Kraig Vickers home Wednesday morning.
Transportation Security Administration officers, military personnel and about 70 Maui police officers with white gloves saluted and stood at attention as his flag-draped casket was slowly carried off the aircraft with members of the Vickers family standing nearby. The casket was carried by Navy personnel and placed in a black hearse, which drove away from the airport.
Vickers, 36, of Virginia Beach, Va., and formerly of Kokomo was among 30 service members who died early last month when their helicopter was shot down in Wardak province, Afghanistan. The Americans in the helicopter were rushing to help Army Rangers who had come under fire. Eight Afghans also were killed, making it the deadliest single loss of U.S. forces in the decadelong war in Afghanistan.
A Maui Police Department honor guard salutes the hearse containing the casket of Kraig Vickers and the family cortege as it nears the gates of Kahului Airport on Wednesday. The 1992 Maui High School graduate and Navy explosive ordnance disposal technician attached to a Navy SEAL unit was killed during combat last month in Afghanistan.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Navy personnel carry a casket with Kraig Vickers’ remains off a military C-17 transport Wednesday morning at Kahului Airport.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
Senior Chief Petty Officer Kraig Vickers takes a break while on patrol in Afghanistan. The resident of Virginia Beach, Va., who grew up on Maui, was among 30 Americans killed when their helicopter was shot down in Wardak province last month.
A hearse bearing the casket of fallen Maui son Kraig Vickers prepares to pull away Wednesday from a C-17 transport at Kahului Airport while family members and an honor guard look on.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Vickers, a 1992 Maui High School graduate and a football and wrestling standout, was a senior chief explosive ordnance disposal technician attached to a Navy SEAL unit.
Services for Vickers will be held Saturday, with visitation from 8 to 10 a.m. in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater. A service will start at 10 a.m., with burial at 1 p.m. at Valley Isle Memorial Park in Haiku.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Vickers' wife, Nani, and his children, Makahea, Kala'i, Malie and an unborn baby girl at www.kraigvickers.com.
Wednesday morning, the C-17 aircraft was greeted by a "water lei" provided by Kahului Airport Rescue Firefighting Unit trucks. An American Medical Response ambulance and vehicle along with Maui County vehicles also were parked at the airport in tribute to Vickers.
Reporters were not allowed to get up close to the aircraft or conduct interviews with the family, but they witnessed the proceedings from outside the airport's fence with a handful of others, including former and current Transportation Security Administration workers.
"I think he's a hero. I'm proud to say he's from Maui, and he was serving this country, and he gave the ultimate sacrifice," said Kahiwalani Enriques of Waiehu, a former TSA worker at Kahului Airport with Kraig Vickers' brothers Robert Jr. and Vance.
"I'm very grateful for what he has done for us," she said while watching from the fence line.
Elmer Tomas, a technician with Worldwide Flight Services at Kahului Airport and an Air Force veteran, said he didn't know the Vickers family but wanted to show his respect.
"He sacrificed his life for our freedom," Tomas said in between filming the event through holes in the chain-link fence.
Mayor Alan Arakawa and other county officials, including police Chief Gary Yabuta, also were at the airport to pay their respects.
In a cellphone interview after the gathering, Yabuta said the police officers and high-ranking police officials came voluntarily to pay tribute to Vickers and to show the Vickers family that "we all share in their loss."
Kraig Vickers' brother Mark is a sergeant with the Maui Police Department and is a school resource officer. Kraig Vickers' father, Robert Sr., recently retired from the department as a civilian traffic reconstructionist. He also taught aikido to officers, Yabuta said.
"It's just a wonderful family," Yabuta said, noting he also had met Kraig Vickers, who worked out in the police gym while on leave from the Navy.
"He was a remarkable person," he said.
Originally, the Vickers family was going to bring him home earlier in the week from Virginia, but Hurricane Irene disrupted travel from the East Coast.
After members of the Vickers family gathered up their belongings and spoke with officials outside the view of the public Wednesday morning, a caravan of 14 cars including those of the family, police, state sheriffs and the hearse left the airport.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@maui news.com.