Hundreds gather at Arlington funeral for Pa. special tactics airman

“In honor of Dylan’s legacy, may you too make the most of your God-given gifts and talents,' the chaplain told the mourners.

  • Ed Mahon

F-15 planes flew over head.

A bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.”

And dozens of men wearing red berets stood in the pouring rain as family, friends and fellow service members said goodbye to Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin of Hookstown.

The 25-year-old Elchin was killed last November, after a roadside bomb attack in the Ghazni province of Afghanistan. Three other service members also died in the deadliest attack against U.S. forces in the war in 2018.

His  family waited nearly two months for the funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery, so that members of his elite air tactical unit who served overseas with Elchin could attend.

About 350 people gathered inside Memorial Chapel, just outside the hallowed grounds of Arlington. A larger photo of Elchin, showing him wearing fatigues and smiling, stood on a pedestal in front.

Memorial cards at the service showed him with that smile and featured two written messages:

  • “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
  • “A boy had a dream, the man had the guts to make those dreams come true.”

Elchin was a teenager, growing up in Beaver County, when he decided to join the military. He spent years training to become an Air Force combat controller in the 26th Special Tactics Squadron. He earned the right to don the red beret of the special tactics airman.

He deployed to Afghanistan in August and embedded with a special forces team. Elchin served on the ground during combat, and, during a firefight, it was his job to coordinate air strikes.

He saw action early on. On Aug. 12, a convoy was pinned down and Elchin “repeatedly disregarded his own personal safety and exposed himself to enemy fire while coordinating”air strikes, according to an Air Force news release.

He was awarded an Army Commendation Medal with Valor for his actions that day.

Among those on hand to pay their respects Thursday was  a group of family and friends who traveled from western Pennsylvania.

A flag is presented to the family of Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin on Jan. 24, 2019, at Arlington National Cemetery.

Tim Lambert / WITF

A flag is presented to the family of Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin on Jan. 24, 2019, at Arlington National Cemetery.

At the chapel service, a fellow airman talked about how Elchin could complete any task and walk through anything with a smile.

And the chaplain, Air Force Maj. Amber Murrell, talked about some of the things that made Elchin who he was: the Boy Scouts, training, camping, fishing, “just roughing it,” and the “spontaneous moments” he spent with others.

She described Elchin’s decision to join the military as a decision to fight for peace.

“And those who have been in war, like many of Dylan’s comrades, will tell you there is nothing glorious about it,” Murrell said. “It is real. And it is ugly.”

A bagpipe player performs "Amazing Grace" on Jan. 24, 2019 at Arlington National Cemetery.

Tim Lambert / WITF

A bagpipe player performs “Amazing Grace” on Jan. 24, 2019, at Arlington National Cemetery.

But she said Elchin’s sacrifice was an expression of love.  “And Dylan loved unabashadley,” Murrell said, “and so did God’s son.”

The service lasted about 25 minutes. Then the hundreds there headed to Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery.

Horses pulled a caisson with the flag-draped casket. A bugler played “Taps.” Service members fired a three-volley salute.

At one point, the chaplain listed a string of words to describe Elchin: someone who was a warrior, good-hearted, fearless, a clown who loved to impersonate people, dependable. And also: son, grandson, brother, fiance, brother-in-arms, friend and patriot.

“In honor of Dylan’s legacy, may you too make the most of your God-given gifts and talents,” Murrell told the mourners.

Following military tradition, Elchin’s family was presented with the U.S. flag that had draped his casket.

Tim Lambert / WITF

A lone bugler plays taps at Staff Sergeant Dylan Elchin’s funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery.

Up Next
The State We're In

Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin of Beaver County to be buried today in Arlington