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TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2007
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Alabama helicopter pilot remembered as role model

FORT RUCKER (AP) — Army helicopter pilot Keith Yoakum was remembered as a model for others who fly choppers in combat, protecting ground troops, as well as a loving father who looked forward to teaching his daughters to fly.

A memorial service for the 41-year-old chief warrant officer, who died Feb. 2 in Iraq while conducting combat air patrol, will be held Tuesday in the main post chapel at Fort Rucker. But recollections of his military career and his love of his family and flying were expressed in advance of the service.

"He made us all stand a little taller and be the best that we can be," said his older brother, Mark Yoakum. "He wasn't the wind beneath our wings, but he was our wings."

Keith Yoakum, who lived at Coffee Springs in Geneva County, had moved to the Wiregrass region from Hemet, Calif. Near his two brothers, the family bought property and had begun to build a hangar and grass landing strip.

"He was teaching his daughters (Katelynn, 16, and Kirstee, 14) how to fly," his wife, Kelly Yoakum, told The Dothan Eagle in a story Monday. "That was his dream, to own his own grass strip. Flying was his passion. And he loved his brothers and wanted to do as many things as possible together."

"He was just such a good man," she said. "He was a very good father. He was very proud of his daughters and with what little time he had he tried to give it to them."

His twin brother, Kevin Yoakum, said he has received e-mails from soldiers around the world expressing condolences and sharing memories.

Rob Williams, who served with Keith Yoakum, said in an e-mail that "anyone who's been flying Apaches for any length of time either knows (Yoakum) or knows of him. He's the guy everyone wishes they could be."

He died of wounds suffered when he was forced down in combat operations at Taji, Iraq. Chief Warrant Officer Jason G. Defrenn, 34, of Barnwell, S.C., was also killed. They were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Cavalry Regiment, 1st Division, at Fort Hood, Texas.

Yoakum's family said he died doing what he loved.

"I'm glad I came," Yoakum wrote in an e-mail two days before his death. "I think I make a difference."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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