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Slide Show in Scotts Memory

Fallen Air Force Sergeant Always Driven to Excel

The first specks of scarlet at the graveside of Staff Sgt. Scott D. Sather were isolated, nearly lost in the mass of civilians in dark mourning clothes. Then, after everyone else had settled in, the slim men in blue uniforms and dark red berets approached by the dozens, forming a ring of color around the outside of the crowd.

Sather, an Air Force combat air controller, was killed in Iraq on April 8. Yesterday he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery surrounded by service members wearing berets, the symbols of their elite status. In addition to the scarlet worn by his fellow airmen, there were tan berets on Army Rangers and at least one Army Green Beret in the crowd.

Sather, 29, a native of Clio, Mich., joined the Air Force in 1992. He soon began training to be a combat air controller, one of a unit of about 300 who work on the ground near or ahead of front-line combat troops and guide attack planes to nearby targets.

These airmen, whose slogan is "First There," are trained in parachuting, scuba diving and combat survival as well as air traffic control. Retired Staff Sgt. Mike Naylor, who served with Sather in Bosnia, said Sather was drawn to the extreme aspects of the job.

"He wanted to skydive. He wanted to scuba dive. He wanted to be a cowboy," Naylor said after the funeral. "I mean, he wanted to be right up front."

Naylor said Sather, an outstanding athlete in high school, was a fierce competitor. While assigned to Bosnia, Naylor said, their unit was kept on alert and could not stray more than a few minutes from its planes. To pass the time, Naylor said, they would engage in highly competitive games of Ultimate Frisbee.

Sather "was fanatical about it. He didn't want to lose," Naylor said. "Everything that he did was that intense."

There were also lighthearted moments during those long periods of alert: Naylor said that Sather played practical jokes on another airman named Eggers, hiding eggs in his boots, then slipping away.

"Eggers never found out who was doing it," Naylor said.

Sather's service yesterday was the last of a week in which seven casualties of the Iraq war were buried at Arlington. Fifteen have been laid to rest there since April 10. Sather's coffin was positioned in a row of fresh graves at the edge of a field that does not yet have headstones.

Sather was stationed at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina and married last year, according to published reports. His widow, Melanie, sat with his parents, Karin Craft and Rod Sather, at the grave site.

The service began with a flyover by A-10 attack jets. After remarks by a chaplain, flags were presented to his wife and parents.

At the conclusion, other combat controllers -- in distinctive headgear and uniforms, their dress pants stuffed into combat boots -- walked forward, set a coin commemorating their unit on the coffin and saluted.

Maj. John Koren, a retired Air Force officer who once was Sather's commander, said afterward that the handsome, capable airman stood out even among his elite colleagues.

"When they asked me to put people on tough missions, he was first on my list," Koren said, adding that he could think of no higher praise for a soldier.

"He represented America," Koren said. "He represented you and I. You can't ask for anything better than that."

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 26, 2003; Page A15

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