Breaking Ground for Fallen Airmen

  • Published
  • By Susan A. Romano
  • AFTAC Public Affairs
Since 1947, the mission of long range detection has been the responsibility of what is now known as the Air Force Technical Applications Center, and over the course of those 75 years, 81 Airmen – civilian and military alike – have died while in active government service.
Prior to moving into their new headquarters building in 2014, AFTAC displayed three antiquated bronze plaques on the wall in the center’s old conference room that contained the names of their fallen servicemembers.
When it came time to relocate to the new facility, the staff realized the plaques were out of date, contained service numbers (a privacy act violation today), and those who researched how to fix those problems quickly learned that trying to add additional names to the plaques was virtually impossible due to the prohibitive cost and lack of skilled bronzesmiths in the area who could match the existing nameplates.
So, the plaques remained in secured storage.
AFTAC’s former Historian, Dr. James “Mike” Young, decided it was time to find a solution to the situation.  He worked closely with AFTAC alumni to see what could be done to appropriately recognize the fallen members of the Department of Defense’s sole nuclear treaty monitoring organization.  Through a series of meetings, years of research, and the drive to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, the AFTAC Memorial Corporation was founded.
The corporation, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, became an official entity in January 2018.  Five former AFTAC employees formed the initial cadre of officers:  Lou Seiler, president; Jim Whidden, director; Young, director; David Charitat, secretary; and Arlin Massey, treasurer.  Shortly after their initial meetings, another former AFTAC alum, Mark Bitter, joined the board.
Together, their goal was to raise enough money to erect a fitting monument for their fellow AFTACers who died in the line of duty.“In 2017, I heard the AFTAC commander at the time make comment that there was no accessible location in the new facility to display the names of those who passed while in service to AFTAC,” said Seiler, “so I accepted the challenge to find an appropriate way to honor those fallen Airmen.”
Seiler went a step further than just accepting the challenge.  He and a few other members of the board approached Viera Builders, a local Brevard County developer, for an estimate on what a concrete pad would cost to install.  After some discussion, the company decided to donate the entire pad, including labor and materials, toward the construction of the monument.  Viera Builders became the corporation’s first “Platinum Donor.”
Additionally, the board needed to gain approval from the Space Launch Delta 45 commander in order to use federal property for their project.
“The process to convey land to use for a project like this has to go through the base’s Real Property office, part of the 45th Civil Engineering Squadron,” Whidden explained.  “By regulation, the Space Force must accept the memorial as ‘real property’ for it to be legitimate.  The corporation proposed the location and provided artist renderings and architectural drawings to the CES experts, who ultimately received approval from the installation commander so we could proceed.”
Once the proposal was accepted and approved, the corporation moved quickly to secure the funding needed to get started.
“We’ve raised nearly $90,000 through donations and fundraisers, but we’re hoping to spread the word to get more folks interested in the project,” said Whidden.  “We created a campaign where people can purchase a brick and have it inscribed with any message of their choosing.  The bricks will be part of the walkway that leads up to the wall of names of the fallen.”
Still, the corporation is short of their goal to raise enough funds to complete the entire project, to include funding for regular maintenance and upkeep, as well as future additions to the wall as necessary, which is estimated to be near $165,000.
The process hasn’t been without its share of challenges and hurdles, Seiler said. 
“The COVID pandemic certainly caused some significant delays, and the initial donation process was very slow,” he said.  “But once we got the ball rolling and people learned that the memorial was taking shape, we definitely saw progress on the donations front.”
Once the majority of the pieces came together, AFTAC hosted a Groundbreaking Ceremony Feb. 24 to commemorate the symbolic start of the construction project.  On hand to dig up the first shovelfuls of soil were Col. James A. Finlayson, AFTAC commander; Seiler; Nick Crowe, Executive Vice President of Viera Builders; Todd Pokrywa, President of the Viera Company; and Col. Anthony Graham, Space Launch Delta 45 vice commander.
The memorial consists of a 15-foot square concrete pad to hold two granite wall segments that will display the names of the fallen, along with a granite pedestal and two stone benches.  The bricked walkway will lead from AFTAC’s flagpole to the pad.
“In a perfect world, and if additional funding becomes available, we hope to install a lithium ion sculpture made of brushed steel that we will mount to the granite pedestal,” said Seiler.  “But for now, we’re very pleased with how the memorial is coming along.”
The corporation and its donors are anticipating a completion date of early June (minus the atom), provided all things go as planned.
“As with any construction project of this nature and scope, we are reticent on locking in a hard date for the completion of the granite walls, but we’re hopeful our vision will come to fruition over the course of the next few months,” Whidden said.
“This memorial will be dedicated to all those who lost their lives in service to their nation, the Air Force, and most notably, to AFTAC,” said Finlayson.  “It will be a solemn location to honor and pay tribute to these great American patriots, and their sacrifices will never be forgotten.”
Anyone interested in having a brick inscribed should visit this website for full details: