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NEWS | March 19, 2024

New York National Guard Brings Fallen Warrant Officers Home

By Eric Durr, New York National Guard

LATHAM, N.Y. - The New York National Guard brought home the remains of two helicopter pilots killed March 8 in a helicopter crash in Texas.

The caskets containing the bodies of Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officers 2 Casey Frankoski, 28, and John M. Grassia III, 30, were ferried on March 18 from Kelly Field, Texas, to the Army Aviation Support Facility at Albany International Airport onboard an LC-130 Hercules assigned to the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing.

About 400 family members, friends, New York National Guard military and civilian employees, local political leaders and Gov. Kathy Hochul met the aircraft.

As the crowd watched, a New York National Guard Honor Guard carried the caskets containing Grassia and Frankoski down the ramp of the LC-130 to hearses.

New York State Police and Rensselaer police escorted the hearses and buses with the families of Frankoski and Grassia to funeral homes in Glenville and Rensselaer.

Area residents lined the routes of the two processions to salute the two UH-72 Lakota pilots.

Frankoski is the daughter of retired Rensselaer Police Chief James Frankoski; Grassi was a member of the New York State Police.

“They are valued team members who are heroes” who tragically lost their lives doing their mission, said Col. Jason Lefton, the state Army aviation officer and commander of the 42nd Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade.

“We’re doing everything we can to find out what happened and take care of their families and the rest of our Soldiers,” Lefton said. “Right now, it is a time of hurt. We’re looking after each other and we’re doing the best that we can.”

Frankoski and Grassia were piloting a UH-72 assigned to the District of Columbia National Guard on a border reconnaissance mission March 8 when the helicopter crashed near Rio Grande City, Texas.

Border Patrol Agent Chris Luna was also killed in the crash and Sgt. 1st Class Jacob Pratt was severely injured.

Frankoski and Grassia were assigned to Detachment 2, Company A, of the 1st Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment. The 21-Soldier detachment was mobilized in October for federal duty supporting the Border Patrol as part of Joint Task Force North.

The unit is based at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Latham adjacent to New York National Guard headquarters.

Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, the adjutant general of New York, decided to seek to bring the remains of the two Soldiers home together on a New York Air National Guard aircraft.

After discussions with Army and Air Force officials, approval was obtained to fly the mission.

On March 17, an LC-130, the Hercules version modified to land on snow and ice with skis, left Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, New York, and flew to Texas.

An eight-Soldier detail from the New York Army National Guard Honor Guard was on board, led by Sgt. 1st Class Charles Gabriel, the noncommissioned officer in charge of New York’s 87-Soldier Honor Guard force.

On March 18, the Honor Guard team received the remains of Frankoski and Grassia from a San Antonio area undertaker and transferred them to the New York aircraft.

The aircraft took off about 9:30 a.m. Texas time, with an expected arrival time of 3 p.m. in the Albany area.

At 2 p.m., the Grassia and Frankoski families and friends arrived in charter buses. They were housed in a heated hangar at the flight facility because it was bitterly cold.

Forty Rensselaer police and New York State Police vehicles were on hand to be part of the procession.

As 3 p.m. drew closer, the families and dignitaries were moved to a helicopter hangar closer to where the plane would arrive.

Following a pass of the airfield, the LC-130 landed and backed down the taxiway to the Army flight facility. The two hearses and police escort vehicles came forward. As the aircraft engines shut down, the families and officials, including the governor, moved out to line the taxiway on either side.

The crew of the LC-130 lined up alongside the ramp and prepared to present arms.

With everybody in place, the Honor Guard carry team moved first one, and then the other, flag-covered casket down the aircraft ramp and into the hearses as military personnel saluted and civilians placed their hands over their hearts.

While the families had a chance to approach the hearses, Hochul, accompanied by Shields and New York State Police Acting Superintendent Steven James, greeted the Airmen and Soldiers who crewed the mission.

The hearses, escorted by the police vehicles and followed by the 50-passenger buses carrying family members, then drove past a line of aviation Soldiers, Troopers and police officers who saluted as they passed.

Services for Frankoski are March 22, followed by military funeral honors and burial at the Gerald B. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery near the historic battlefield.

Grassia will be interred at the same cemetery following military funeral honors March 26.



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