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Dedication of Gilbert Hall honors valor of OTS alumnus

Building 1487 of the Officer Training School here was dedicated as Gilbert Hall Oct. 26 in memory of Maj. Troy L. Gilbert, a 1995 OTS distinguished alumnus who lost his life executing an extreme low-level strafing pass during a close air support combat mission while leading a flight of two F-16s near Taji, Iraq, in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom on Nov. 27, 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo/Roger Curry)

Building 1487 of the Officer Training School here was dedicated as Gilbert Hall Oct. 26 in memory of Maj. Troy L. Gilbert, a 1995 OTS distinguished alumnus who lost his life executing an extreme low-level strafing pass during a close air support combat mission while leading a flight of two F-16s near Taji, Iraq, in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom on Nov. 27, 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo/Roger Curry)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Building 1487 of the Officer Training School Complex was dedicated as Gilbert Hall Monday in memory of Maj. Troy L. Gilbert, a 1995 OTS distinguished alumnus who exemplified the three Air Force core values by how he lived and how he died. A commemorative plaque and memory wall on display at the new Gilbert Hall honor his legacy of service and self-sacrifice, both serving as an inspiration to OTS students and to honor one who gave all.

Major Gilbert lost his life executing an extreme low-level strafing pass during a close air support combat mission while leading a flight of two F-16s near Taji, Iraq, in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom on Nov. 27, 2006. "Troy was forced to face the enemy eyeball to eyeball," said Maj. Gen. Robin Rand, commander of the 332nd Expeditionary Wing, Major Gilbert's unit, on that fateful day in Iraq.

In spite of the danger posed by the insurgents' anti-aircraft fire, Major Gilbert engaged the enemy. His action helped save the lives of a downed Army helicopter crew in danger of being overrun, as well as ground troops being attacked by an assortment of enemy fire, including truck-mounted heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, small arms fire and mortars. This last action earned Major Gilbert a Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor and a Purple Heart.

In attendance at the dedication ceremony were Major Gilbert's mother and father, himself a retired Air Force senior master sergeant; his wife, Ginger Gilbert-Ravella; his five children; as well as local and AETC leaders, including Air University Commander Lt. Gen. Allen Peck, Holm Center Commander Brig. Gen. Teresa Djuric, and Alabama state Senators Hank Erwin and Scott Beason.

Major Gilbert's wife, Ms. Gilbert-Ravella, noted that he turned down a lucrative private sector career opportunity, instead choosing to serve his country in the military the way his father and grandfather had done before him. "Troy grew up in a proud and loving military family," she said. "My love for the Air Force grew from Troy's passion for it."

The impact of OTS on Major Gilbert was obvious, said Ms. Gilbert-Ravella. "Mentally and emotionally, he was stronger," she said. "Troy never looked at his career in the Air Force as a job. It was a way of life. I know he left an amazing legacy behind."

A Breckenridge, Texas, native and graduate of Texas Tech University, Major Gilbert logged more than 130 combat hours, serving with distinction in flying combat missions in operations Allied Force, Northern Watch and Iraqi Freedom.

She said on behalf of the family, "We wholeheartedly agree that Gilbert Hall was the best name you could have chosen."

General Rand provided more glimpses into Major Gilbert's character. He remarked that the heroic action that cost his life was only a part of what made Major Gilbert an exemplary Airman. "What made him great was his commitment" to the Air Force's core values of integrity, service before self and excellence in all we do, he said.

Major Gilbert displayed these values in many ways, said General Rand. He "volunteered countless hours at the hospital," performing tasks such as mopping, and at the chapel annex providing counsel for those who needed it. He didn't learn of Major Gilbert's deeds from the man himself, but from the testimony of those he served. When Major Gilbert died, both the hospital and chapel wanted to honor his memory by renaming the hospital wing and chapel annex in his honor.

"Simply put, he set a high bar for everyone around him," said General Rand. "I'm honored to have served with this godly man ... and wear the same uniform he wore."

General Rand said Major Gilbert was the third of 13 pilots lost during his time as commander of the 332nd, a time of intense insurgent activity in Iraq. "He did not die in vain," as his sacrifice not only saved American lives but made progress in Iraq possible, he said. He read passages from Thomas Paine's essay "The Crisis" that discussed the true value of patriotism. General Rand remarked that Major Gilbert is a prime example of a true patriot, willing to serve no matter how dark the hour may be. "This American patriot was willing to face the times that try men's souls," he said.

His advice for the OTS students assembled: "Strive to be great."

Echoing General Rand's sentiments, Col. Laura Koch, the OTS commander, paid tribute to Major Gilbert and the example he set for all OTS graduates to come. "Troy was faithful to our proud Air Force heritage," she said. "His story will inspire our newest officers to go forward with courage ... a story of valor that will forever be displayed on the walls of Gilbert Hall."