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Air Force Special Operations 'gentle giant' laid to rest

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ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va. -- For the second week in a row, an Air Force Special Operations Command pararescueman was laid to rest here.

Tech. Sgt. John Brown, with family roots in Arkansas and Florida, was buried here Aug. 30, one week after his teammate and friend Tech. Sgt. Daniel Zerbe.

Both Brown and Zerbe were on a CH-47 helicopter Aug. 6 when it crashed in the Wardak province of eastern Afghanistan. Another teammate who died, Air Force combat controller Staff Sgt. Andy Harvell, will be buried at a later date. They were among 25 U.S. Special Operations Command operators who died in the crash, which also took the lives of five U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers, seven Afghan commandos and one civilian interpreter.

Family, friends, senior leaders and past teammates attended Brown's funeral, including former Secretary of the Air Force James Roche, AFSOC commander Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel and the AFSOC command chief, Chief Master Sgt. William Turner.

The 3rd United States Infantry's "The Old Guard" led a procession through Arlington National Cemetery, pulling Brown's flag-draped casket on a caisson led by a team of six white Lippizan horses. More than 100 of Brown's teammates followed, marching in silence.

A missing-man formation of four A-10s from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., Brown's former base, broke the silence, followed by three-rifle volleys, a flag-folding ceremony and the playing of "Taps."

During a memorial service for Brown held Aug. 16, his youth pastor, Ray Fritz said: "One word that sums up John is kind. He was kind to a fault and would do anything for anyone." Many who grew up with Brown said they remembered him as a dedicated, courageous family man who was an example for everyone and a man of character.

At 6 feet 2 inches tall, Brown was nicknamed "the gentle giant." A former teammate of Brown's said he was a big man, but his heart was even bigger. He said Brown had a belief in something higher and believed in a justness and goodness that would shine through. He said everyone in attendance could take away some life lessons from "big John Brown" to live harder, fight stronger and live better than the common man.

Each of Brown's teammates and friends nailed a pararescue badge into the top of Brown's casket, a tradition signifying he will never be forgotten among his team.

"He was a man who would not quit and only needed a family behind him and an enemy in front of him," one of Brown's former team-leads said.

Brown is survived by wife Tabitha, his father Dan, his mother Elizabeth Newlun, and brothers Danny and Lucas.

Tabitha said she will forever miss her husband.

"He is my best friend and the love of my life," she said.

Article by Maj. Kristi Beckman, Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs