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Pope AAF dedicates building to fallen Airman

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Solomon Cook
  • 43rd Air Mobility Operations Group Public Affairs

Within the military, there are usually buildings reserved for gatherings to disseminate information, highlight individual and group successes and celebrate Airmen who served shoulder to shoulder with each other. For Team Pope, this building is the Airman’s Center – now the Senior Airman Ashton L. Goodman Airman’s Center. 

The building was officially dedicated to Senior Airman Goodman June 21, 2024. Goodman was tragically killed by a roadside bomb in 2009 during a mission in Afghanistan. The dedication ceremony hosted friends, family and members who served with Goodman to include retired Gen. Mark D. Kelly, former Air Combat Command commander. 

“I didn't know Ashton,” admitted Col. Allen C. Morris Jr., 43rd Air Mobility Operations Group commander. “I only know her through stories from [Gen. Kelly]. He introduced me to his former driver by talking about her in the office with reverence. He spoke of her in such a way that I can only compare to is as if she was one of his own children. The impact that she had is visible. Not only in stories that you can read online, but with the people that knew her.”

After continuing to recount the stories he heard anecdotally, he gave the floor to Kelly who served with Ashton in Afghanistan.

“If you knew Ashton, I don't need to explain to you the incredible spirit and role model attributes that were embodied in this Airman,” Kelly said. “I only knew her for a few months because I was winding out the last few months of my time in Afghanistan when she was showing up. But in that short time, she made a huge impression. I soon learned that she was the most capable Airman – and following her tour in Iraq she already had under her belt – she was the most combat experienced driver on that installation.

“Because of her capability, commitment and experienced, other more senior NCOs sought after her advice,” he continued. “It doesn't take a very experienced commander to notice after five minutes in a unit seeing NCOs turning to an Airman for advice that rank really doesn't matter. When you're going outside the wire, it’s relevancy and credibility that matters. And they looked to her for relevance and credibility and experience. That tells you a whole lot about an Airman. I'd say during my 38 years in the Air Force, I do not remember an Airman, of any rank, who had more natural initiative ownership and situational leadership than Ashton. If you were in her Humvee or MRAP – divorced from rank or position – you were a passenger. She was unambiguously in charge.”

“The vehicle, its passengers, cargo and the route that day were her responsibility,” Kelly explained. “We left when she said it was time to go. We stopped when she said it was time to stop. Sometimes we didn't know why she was stopping, but she had a good reason. Besides being a great driver and protector, she was an effective teacher and ambassador.”

Prior to the dedication, the Goodman family, Kelly and Morris had a private lunch in the building. As the family toured the facility, they reminisced about Goodman and prepared for the somber ceremony to be held later. 

“Though, Ashton has already left her mark on all the people who were lucky enough to know her, today is a huge part in ensuring her legacy lives on,” Brianna Goodman, sister of Ashton said holding back tears. “On behalf of my very great sister and my humble family, we just want to say thank you. Thank you for this honor and for helping us make sure that her legacy is going to live on for all the years to come.”

Goodman was a vehicle operator on the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team's main project that was the construction of a $28 million road connecting Panjshir to the Badakhshan province, as well as all neighboring provinces. Airman Goodman supported countless engineering missions to the province's most northern and remote district of Paryan where the final leg of the 80-mile road is presently under construction. Additionally, she was an advocate of women’s affairs and spent time mentoring the women of Afghanistan during her deployment. One of her last missions was delivering needed food to more than 100 women.  

Goodman was one of 2,459 service members killed during the War in Afghanistan and the first member from then Pope Air Force Base. The process to dedicate the building to Goodman began shortly after her death but was unfortunately lost in administrative bureaucracy during the base realignment and Closure (BRAC) of Pope Air Force Base during the redesignation to Pope Army Airfield. 

“The paperwork was signed in 2010, and shortly thereafter, base realignment happened,” Morris elaborated. “Everything that was Pope Air Force Base went to the Army. With that, all proceedings and processes to put [Ashton’s] name on this building stopped and disappeared from memory for the better part of 14 years.”

Morris then explained to the family and the audience the multi-step process to make the dedication a reality.

“A lot of things had to happen correctly and in good time to make this happen,” Morris said. “It should have happened 14 years ago. Today, we have an opportunity to right, maybe not necessarily a wrong, but something that lapsed out of our recent memory as an Air Force – an opportunity to remember and to put something right. I am so glad that [the Goodman family was] able to come down from Indiana and join us. It means the world to me.”

After a moment of silence and the playing of taps, a plaque and a painting commemorating Goodman's sacrifice was unveiled. Henceforth, as the countless Airmen from Team Pope gather in a place to honor, celebrate and remember the service and sacrifice of others, they will do it in the hallowed halls of the Senior Airman Ashton Goodman Airman’s Center.