Known for his grit, loyalty, unwavering character, and the author of quick-witted military cadences, often referred to as “jodies,” Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin was tough, dedicated, and easy going—often making light of difficult situations.
He was a good teammate, a selfless friend and a true patriot who expressed a willingness to lay down his life for what he believed in—God and country.
Elchin, a Special Tactics combat controller assigned to the 26th Special Tactics Squadron, was honored as hundreds gathered in the rain and he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, Jan. 24, 2019.
“The boy had a deep-seeded love for his country, and I think early on he decided he wanted to do something with that,” Elchin’s grandfather, Ron Bogolea said. “Somewhere along the line, he apparently made the decision that he was willing to give his life for the country.”
As a Special Tactics combat controller, Elchin was specially trained and equipped for immediate deployment into combat operations to conduct global access, precision strike, and personnel recovery operations. He was skilled in reconnaissance operations, air traffic control and joint terminal attack control operations.
Foundation of morals, discipline
Growing up in rural Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Elchin’s love for camping, hiking, and swimming led him to cub and boy scouts, where his grandfather, Bogolea, believes he acquired his moral compass.
“He loved the whole aspect of boy scouts,” said Bogolea. “I think as a boy scout, it did a lot to instill in him some of the better moral things in life that people need, and it filled him with patriotism.”
Alongside three brothers, Dylan grew up doing “boy things,” often resulting in minor scrapes and bruises. A trip to the hospital at the age of four showcased a trait that would establish the foundation for Elchin’s success in Special Tactics.
As Bogolea recalls, Dylan’s horseplay on a bunkbed resulted in a laceration above his eye that required stitches, but with the location of the cut, the medical team wasn’t able to apply any medication for the pain. What happened next amazed Dylan’s grandfather and showcased how Dylan was different from other children.
“The boy never whimpered, never whined, never cried, and I was just amazed.” Bogolea said. “From that point on, I just knew there was something a little different about this child. He could take things and kind of brush them off.”
Joining the nation’s elite warriors
By age 14, Dylan began reading accounts of various historical conflicts—Vietnam, the Gulf War, and others—that involved the expertise of special operations.
“A spark ignited, the spark that most of us don’t have,” Bogolea said.
At the end of high school, Dylan visited the local Air Force recruiter and expressed his desire to perform more high-risk activities.
“Dylan wanted to jump out of airplanes, scuba dive and do all that fun stuff,” his grandfather said.
The recruiter was able to fulfill Dylan’s desires and offered him an opportunity to serve his nation as a Special Tactics combat controller. While the desire and passion were there, Elchin needed to focus on the physical aspects of the job to best prepare him for what lay ahead.
“For a year, the recruiter took Dylan under his wing and brought him to the YMCA … swam him, lifted weights with him, ran him, ran him and ran him.” Bogolea said. “The whole year this recruiter got him in shape; otherwise he wouldn’t have made it.”
On Aug. 7, 2012, the Hopewell High School graduate would come one step closer to his goal as he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and arrived in San Antonio, Texas for basic military training. Upon graduation, he immediately began the two-year Special Tactics combat control training program.
As Dylan progressed through one of the most strenuous military training programs, his teammates began to notice one of his most valued characteristics, his quick-witted humor.
“He was a hilarious human, he was probably one of the funniest people that I’ve ever encountered in this job,” said a Special Tactics Officer with the 720th Special Tactics Group and Dylan’s teammate in the pipeline.
“His quick wit, his ability to draw the most hilarious comics and just provide levity to the worst situations made him an unbelievable teammate that everybody wanted to help carry along and be carried by.”
However, it wasn’t only his humor his teammates noticed. They saw the same spark Bogolea did.
“He just had that grit…He just kept driving through and he would always do whatever it took to get the job done. That definitely stood out to me,” said a Special Tactics Officer and Elchin’s teammate throughout the pipeline and his team leader at the 26th STS. “His never quit, no-fail attitude carried him, and that’s what he took to everything he did, even post-pipeline, as an operator.”
When it came time for Dylan and his team to graduate from combat control school at Pope Field, North Carolina, and don their scarlet berets for the first time, he invited his family down to attend the graduation ceremony.
“I go down there and I meet up with him; and I look across the field and I see a half a dozen guys jogging through a field with a telephone pole on their shoulders,” Bogolea said. “I said to (Dylan), ‘what’s that?’, he said ‘that’s Andy’, I said, ‘what are they doing?’, and he replied, ‘well, if you screw up, you get to carry Andy. If you don’t screw up, you get to carry Andy’.”
The ability to smile and laugh gave Dylan and his team a comradery that would fuel them through combat control school and their next stop–Advanced Skills Training at Hurlburt Field, Florida. Following graduation of AST, Special Tactics operators are sent to their respective units deployment ready and prepared to be force multipliers on the battlefield.
When Dylan arrived to the 26th STS in October of 2015, his new unit was set to deploy in the upcoming months. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the time required to earn his joint terminal attack controller rating, and he was unable to go with his unit on the deployment.
For many special operators, this situation would be disheartening.
“His attitude with it the whole time was great,” said Master Sgt. TJ Gunnell, a Special Tactics tactical air control party specialist with Air Force Special Operations Command headquarters and Dylan’s team sergeant at the 26th STS. “We came back and they were like, ‘man, Dylan was crushing it here the whole time you guys were gone,’ and they put him right back on a team and he immediately went to work.”
In August of 2018, the 26th STS deployed and this time Dylan joined his unit in Afghanistan serving as a JTAC embedded with a U.S. Army Special Operations Force Operational Detachment-Alpha team. His role was to advise the Ground Force Commander, direct close air support aircraft, and deliver destructive ordnance on enemy targets in support of offensive combat operations.
“As soon as they got overseas on this trip, he was there two weeks and immediately into it, just crushing it as a JTAC,” Gunnell said.
Gunnell was referring to Dylan’s actions Aug. 12, 2018, when he repeatedly disregarded his own personal safety and exposed himself to enemy fire while coordinating life-saving, danger-close, air-to-ground strikes, killing enemy fighters who had pinned down their friendly forces convoy. Dylan’s timely and precise actions were credited with saving the lives of his Army Special Forces and Afghan Commando brethren, and he was awarded an Army Commendation Medal with Valor.
This was just the start of a consistent battle rhythm Dylan and his teammates pursued throughout their deployment; but unfortunately on Nov. 27, 2018, Elchin and three of his teammates paid the ultimate sacrifice for their nation.
Elchin, along with U.S. Army Capt. Andrew Ross and U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Emond, were killed in action when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan while deployed in support of Operation FREEDOM’S SENTINEL. U.S. Army Sgt. Jason McClary died later as a result of injuries sustained from the IED.
For his outstanding courage and leadership over the course of his deployment, Dylan was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star Medal.
“I implore you to honor (Dylan’s) service and sacrifice by picking up your sword and shield and continuing the righteous fight, that each one of us might make this world a better and safer place,” said Air Force Lieutenant Col. Gregory Walsh, commander of the 26th STS, in a letter addressed to Dylan’s teammates. “Although heartbroken at the loss of Dylan, I am extremely proud of him, and every one of you as we carry on in defense of our great nation. Together we must continue the mission, honor his legacy, and never forget what Dylan gave that we might be free.”
Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin is the 20th Special Tactics Airman to be killed in combat since 9/11. In the close-knit Special Tactics community, the enduring sacrifices of Elchin and his family will never be forgotten.
Elchin was a qualified military static line jumper, free fall jumper, an Air Force qualified combat scuba diver, and a qualified Joint Terminal Attack Controller. His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal with Valor, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Combat Action Medal, Air Force Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Award, Air Force NCO Professional Military Education Graduate Ribbon, Air Force Training Ribbon and NATO Medal.
“Dylan knew the freedom and lifestyle we enjoy here must be protected from evil people wanting to destroy our life. Such love a man must have to lay down his life for his friends and his country, but this is who he was,” Bogolea said. “He truly died a noble death. Dylan was a man who had dreams and the guts to make those dreams come true.”
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, VA, UNITED STATES
Story by Senior Airman Joseph Pick