Former Marine Raider Aaron Vanderbeck made a stop at the YANKY 72 Memorial on Wednesday while bicycling through the Delta as part of a trip to raise awareness of Raiders who he believes have been unjustly charged with manslaughter.
Vanderbeck started his 2,700-mile bike trek on May 26 in Oceanside, California, with hopes to end in Wilmington, North Carolina, during the Fourth of July weekend — and he made sure to stop at the memorial along the way.
Vanderbeck, a former staff sergeant, lives in south Texas. He served several tours in the Middle East.
“There’s always points of opportunity, you know. There’s veterans parks where it’s nice to honor those sacrifices and families,” Vanderbeck said. “But, this is the most significant one for me, personally.”
The YANKY 72 plane crash near Itta Bena in 2017 killed 16 service members. Vanderbeck said seven of them were Raiders. A gathering will be held July 11 to pay tribute to the crash victims.
“I come from Marine Special Operations Command, which is why this so important to me. ... Several of those guys killed here were from that same command, and I knew them,” Vanderbeck said.
Also, the Marines he is honoring knew them.
The ride honors these Marine Raiders: Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Draher, Gunnery Sgt. Josh Negron and Chief Petty Officer Eric Gilmet. They have been charged with manslaughter in what Vanderbeck calls an “unfair legal battle.”
According to a statement from Kelsey Addison, communications director for the YANKY 72 Memorial Committee, the Marines used self-defense when “aggressively confronted by an inebriated civilian contractor” while in Iraq.
When the contractor stopped breathing, the soldiers performed advanced lifesaving measures in an attempt to resuscitate him. He was transported to a hospital and died four days later. Military prosecutors charged each Raider with manslaughter, and a major general is moving forward with courts-martial for each.
Vanderbeck believes this is a political move by the major general and wants to use his bike trek to gain support for having the charges against each Raider dismissed.
“The allegations that have been thrown at them — not only are they wrong, but it’s abusing their character,” Vanderbeck said.
“It’s using them as a scapegoat for something else that is going on in the military, primarily an unjust command climate.”
His ride also is to help raise money for United American Patriots, an organization that has helped with legal costs for the three accused Marines, and for the Brothers in Arms Foundation, which helps military members and families.
• Contact Adam Bakst at 581-7233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @AdamBakst_GWCW