By Dave Jordan, NEWS 9
OKLAHOMA CITY - Family members and the Oklahoma National Guard are grieving over the loss of three Oklahomans who died in a helicopter crash in Iraq Thursday.
Michael Thompson of Madill, Brady Rudolf of Oklahoma City and Daniel Eshbaugh of Norman, had been in Iraq since late August. Pentagon officials are investigating what caused the helicopter to go down.
Rudolf's pastor said his congregation is devastated by the loss of a devoted family man and National Guard member.
"We were deeply saddened and our hearts were very much grieved," said Pastor Douglas Melton of Southern Hills Baptist Church.
Pastor Melton received the call early Thursday morning, not too long after the family found out. His first response was to reach out to Rudolf's widow Jennifer and her three sons, 8-year-old Braden, 5-year-old Ty and 1-year-old Nate.
It's the church's way of giving back to the family of a man who gave so much.
"Brady has a tremendous faithfulness in his life in every aspect; faithful to the Lord, faithful in his marriage and his family and faithful in his commitment to serve his country," Pastor Melton said.
Brady Rudolph was an active member of the Baptist church. He met Minister Jeff DeLuc in a Sunday school class held at the church.
Minister DeLuc is having a hard time coming to terms with this loss.
"Thinking about last year and being together and that definitely plays on you and weighs on your mind," the minister said.
Last year, the two men took their sons on a spiritual retreat where Rudolf showed a different side of his personality.
"Brady definitely was a pretty quiet guy, but he was a kidder," DeLuc said. "He always managed to get in little digs."
But he was serious about his faith, which is what his family will rely on in the weeks and months ahead.
"Now being a mom, raising three boys, but that's what a church family is there for; is to help each other through times such as this," Pastor Melton said.
Pastor Melton said there is an upcoming father-son retreat. Brady Rudolph wasn't going to go because he was in Iraq, but now plans are being made to take his eldest son to that retreat.
Both Governor Henry and Congresswoman Mary Fallin released statements regarding the crash.
Governor Henry said, "The tragic deaths of three Oklahoma Guardsmen remind us of the dangers they routinely face so that Americans can enjoy the freedoms upon which this nation was founded." The Governor also called the three soldiers "courageous men of duty and honor" and his thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones during this challenging time.
Congresswoman Mary Fallin said, "Our prayers are with them. We will honor their great sacrifice and mourn their loss as they return home to us."