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Air Force captain from Tampa killed in Afghanistan

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Published:   |   Updated: April 5, 2013 at 10:56 PM
TAMPA -

Air Force Capt. James Michael Steel, who was born in Tampa while his father served as an F-16 pilot at MacDill Air Force Base, followed the family tradition.

Like his dad, Steel, 29, also became an Air Force F-16 pilot.

But on Wednesday, he was killed in an F-16 crash near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense.

Steel, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2006, was assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. After completing pilot training, he arrived at Shaw in June 2010. He was the chief of mobility for the 77th.

His father, Robert P. Steel, rose to the rank of major general, according to Steel's brother, Christopher.

Steel lived in Tampa for about two years, said Christopher Steel, who was also born in the Tampa area.

James Steel had a twin brother, Jonathan, according to Christopher Steel.

Steel's mother, Dee Steel, was also an Air Force Academy graduate.

Dee and Robert Steel have five children, four of whom followed the family's Air Force legacy, according to an Air Force publication.

“James and Jonathan, who are our first set of twins, both went to the academy, one year apart,” Steel's father told the Thunderbolt in an April 10, 2009, story.

“James is ahead of Jonathan by one year, who is at Laughlin finishing up his undergraduate pilot training. Their younger brother, Christopher, graduated the academy as well and is going to medical school at the Uniform Services University in Bethesda, Md. Out of our youngest set of twins, Paul is in basic training wanting to be a (joint terminal attack controller). And our oldest son, Bob, is in the process of applying for an officer training school slot.”

Just after 11 p.m. local time, Steel's F-16 lost contact with its wingman and the tower as it was aligning for final approach to Bagram Airfield, according to Chief MSgt. Tyler Foster, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces Central.

The accident happened about 10 miles south of the airfield, Foster said. There was no indication of enemy activity at the time.

The cause of the accident is under investigation, Foster said.

On the Facebook page of Steel's wing, in a post dedicated to his death, the words “Once a gambler, always a gambler” appear next to his name. His death has saddened the base, according to his commander.

“Our condolences and prayers are with the family, friends and squadron members of Capt. Steel,” said Col. Clay Hall, 20th Fighter Wing commander. “This is a difficult time for Shaw Air Force Base, but we are focused on taking care of the Steel family, our airmen and continuing to execute the mission.”


haltman@tampatrib.com

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