GREENVILLE — A local military mom Sheila McDaniel, 73, recently traveled to Okinawa, Japan to see a training center that was named after her fallen son, Air Force Master Sgt. William “Bub” L. McDaniel II.
Mc Daniel, 36, was an Air Force Special Operations Command pararescueman, also known as a PJ. He was assigned to the 320th Special Tactics Squadron, stationed at Kadena Air Base, Japan at the time of his death.
McDaniel, who served during Operation Enduring Freedom, was one of 10 service men killed in February 2002 after a MH-47E Chinook helicopter crashed into the sea off the southern Philippines. Eight of the men killed were from the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. McDaniel was with fellow PJ Staff Sgt. Juan Ridout from the 353rd Special Operations Group on Okinawa.
According to Staff Sgt. Katherine Holt, 1st Special Operations Wing of the Air Force Special Operations Command, McDaniel was part of a joint, special operations team who were infiltrating an island in the southern Philippines.
“The intent was to infiltrate four teams, establish a forward operating base, collect intelligence and successfully rescue two Americans being held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. After the fourth infiltration, the Army special forces helicopter crashed into the Sulu Sea,” said Holt.
On November 19, 2004, a ceremony and ribbon cutting was held for the McDaniel Center for Professional Development at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa. The ceremony was attended by fellow airmen and base leadership as well as McDaniel’s wife. Sheila and her husband Bill were unable to attend.
The center is for those who want to become a pararescueman or PJ. PJs are the only Department of Defense specialty specifically trained and equipped to conduct conventional or unconventional rescue operations. These Battlefield Airmen are the ideal force for personnel recovery and combat search and rescue.
“Bub was an inspiration for all the guys that came through there. They tell his story for all the new guys,” explained Sheila. “For everything that he went through to be there and how he accomplished it later in his military career. He did it in his early 30s, when most guys went through the training in their early 20s. He was 31. He still hung in there with all those other guys. They had a lot of respect for him. He was very loved. I know a lot of those guys there really miss him.”
At the time of the center’s opening fellow airmen spoke highly of McDaniel.
“Msgt McDaniel and I were team leaders; he was the team leader for Blue team which is the pararescue team and I was the team leader for Silver team which is combat control team,” said Master Sgt. Ronald O’Steen, a 320th STS combat controller. “He would volunteer for the lowest position on a mission – right down in the weeds with the guys because he wanted to learn from the base up.”
“It’s an overwhelming feeling for those who knew him to ride by that building and see his name on it. It just floods you with pride. I hope that he will be a motivation and someone that young airmen can look up to and not just young airmen but NCOs that go through courses in there. and go in there in that room that we dedicated to him and look at all the stuff in the glass case and the painting and take a little bit of pride and motivation to help them get through hard times and to help them do better and make the sir force a better place for everyone,” O’Steen said.
Sheila lost her husband Bill just three weeks after the Air Force held a highway dedication for her son, a six-mile section of County Highway 121 between Fort Jefferson and New Madison, in August 2017.
“They had asked Bill, ‘What can we do for you guys once this is done?’ We had always talked about wanting to be able to see that center,” said Sheila.
She said at the time, her husband’s health, prevented him from going.
“Had he been here I would have felt sad to have left him. But because he was gone I was able to make the trip and feel pretty good about it. Because he would have wanted me to go,” she said.
Sheila’s granddaughter Ashley McDaniel, a paramedic, really pushed for her to take the trip and worked with the Air Force to make it happen.
“I pushed for the trip because I felt that she needed to see it and she needed to go and I always promised grandpa that I would make it happen. So when he died that was my mission,” said Ashley. “The trip meant a lot to see her happy. They treated her like she was family and made me feel like I was part of that with her.”
Both women made the trip to Japan in April, the Air Force paid for everything; their flights, housing, meals and sightseeing. The airmen at the squadron had several special things planned for them in addition to seeing the center. Sheila received a book of photos from the highway dedication from Commander Colonel Mike Martin along with a letter upon her arrival. They also took a video of the men in the squadron doing pushups in the hanger in honor of McDaniel, that Sheila said, made her feel proud.
“That was pretty awesome,” she said.
In August 2017, they met two airmen that had known and worked with McDaniel, Retired Air Force SMSgt Brad Greisen and Master Sgt. Ronald O’Steen. “Brad and Ron were both on the helicopter with him, but they were dropped off in the jungle that day. So I know it’s rough for them especially meeting me and our family,” said Sheila.
Sheila said she wanted to thank several of the airmen for making the trip possible. Among the men were Chris Burger CIV-DAS 24th SOW Division, Steve Haggett GS-09 US Air Force AFSOC 24th SOW Division HG-CCP, Commander Major Joel Buelowa and CMSgt Ken Huhman 320th Special Tactics Squadron and many others.
“I’m trying to figure out a way to really thank them and let them know how much what they did meant to me as the mother of a fallen solider,” said Sheila. “For me, as his mother, I came away feeling a lot of love from those guys. The camaraderie with those guys is amazing.”
“All in all, it was a great trip, I met some amazing people that I won’t ever forget. A lot of good memories from the trip, a lot. This will be something that I will take with me forever, for the rest of my days – the kindness and the generosity and the love that they put into that for somebody that they didn’t know other than I was just a mother of the guy that was killed there,” she said.
“This is pretty much a closure for me, but don’t get me wrong I will never give up hoping for something that will tell me that they’ve found him,” said Sheila. “I don’t mean find his body, I just mean anything that will tell me that’s him. I don’t think I will ever give up that hope because if you read a lot about missing soldiers you’re always seeing something about one that’s been returned after decades and they’ve been found and to be able to have that, that would certainly be the final chapter for me.”
“And my mission’s complete,” said Ashley.
McDaniel is survived by two sons: Alex MCDaniel, 19, and William L. McDaniel III, 16, of Wisconsin.
Sheila has three other children, a daughter Dana Baker of Huber Heights and sons, Shannon McDaniel and Troy McDaniel of Greenville.