HEMET, CA, USA U.S. Army CW4, COMPANY A, 1ST BATTALION, 227TH AVIATION, 1 ACB, (1 CD), FORT HOOD, TX TAJI, IRAQ 02/02/2007
CW4 Keith Yoakum was an extraordinary man who loved to fly and loved to lead. He earned his private pilot’s license as a teenager in his native California by scraping together money from odd jobs.
During his 18 years of service, he rose from the rank of private to CW4, and became a skilled master aviator, an expert maintenance officer, a courageous leader with integrity, who left an indelible mark on all who served with him. Yoakum completed the initial rotary wing course in 1992 at Fort Rucker, Ala., and over the next 15 years amassed nearly 5,000 flight hours in rotary and fixed-wing aircraft during deployments to Korea, Germany, Bosnia, Albania, Egypt, Kosovo and Iraq. He earned ratings as an instructor and maintenance pilot in numerous aircraft, as a glider pilot and parachutist, and earned the air assault badge.
Maxing every physical fitness test he ever took, Yoakum was twice selected below the zone for promotion to CW3 and CW4.
In April 2006, at the pinnacle of his career and as a testament to his skills and unblemished record, he was chosen to fly for the Army’s “Golden Knights” Parachute Team at Fort Bragg, N.C. After a few months, however, Yoakum felt that he could better serve his country as an attack pilot and by leading Soldiers in combat. He selflessly elected to return to combat in Iraq as an AH-64 maintenance test pilot with Company A, 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry. Division
On Feb. 2, 2007, while on a combat reconnaissance patrol along the Tigris River near Taji, Yoakum’s aircraft was seriously damaged by enemy heavy machine-gun fire, which by aviation standards required him to land immediately. Without regard for his own safety and to protect his comrades, Yoakum chose to remain with his wingman to destroy the enemy. With his main gun inoperable, his only option was to climb in altitude and then dive his Apache while firing rockets. Ultimately, the aircraft succumbed to its battle damage and crashed.
For his courage and gallantry, Yoakum became the first Army aviator since Vietnam to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for extraordinary heroism.