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PHOTOS: Charleston honors fallen firefighter

Funeral services were conducted Friday for Charleston Firefighter/Medic Jason Cuffee.

Cuffee’s family and friends were joined at the service by first responders from the area. The service, which included social distancing in the Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center, was streamed online via the city and fire department’s social media pages.

Cuffee, 27, did not respond to a call for service early Monday while he was stationed at the Oakwood Road fire station. He later was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

A former sports standout at Poca High School, he had been with the fire department since 2015.

A fire engine carried Cuffee’s casket in a procession to Tyler Mountain Memory Gardens, in Cross Lanes.

Military training airspace expected to expand over Eastern and Southern West Virginia

Yeager Airport and the West Virginia National Guard are working to have a 2,000-square-mile swath of airspace over Southern West Virginia designated as a Military Operations Area to accommodate tactical training by armed forces aviators.

While the Yeager-Guard plan for creating a Southern West Virginia Military Operations Area is in its infancy, planning and regulatory work are nearing completion for a major expansion of the state’s only existing training zone for military aircraft.

The Evers Military Operating Area now includes airspace above 450 square miles of Pocahontas, Randolph and Pendleton counties. The District of Columbia Air National Guard is seeking to expand it to include a training area of 3,500 square miles, stretching northward into Tucker and Barbour counties, and as far south as northern Monroe County. It also would include portions of Upshur, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Lewis, Harrison and Braxton counties, plus segments of Virginia’s Alleghany, Bath and Highland counties.

The Southern West Virginia MOA is being sought “to increase military training while using Yeager Airport as a home base,” said Nick Keller, director of the Charleston airport.

During the past two years, the airport and the West Virginia National Guard have succeeded in bringing training programs for aviators from all branches of the military to Yeager. From there, pilots and aircrews can practice maneuvers above the rugged, hilly terrain or make remote landings or airdrops of troops and supplies, using a series of leased surface mines located within a short flight from Charleston.

While tentative plans call for most of the Southern West Virginia MOA’s training activity to take place at altitudes between 3,500 to 15,000 feet, two former strip mines would have restricted airspace when training is underway, to accommodate low-level flights, remote landings and live-fire exercises.

Civilian and commercial aircraft would share the MOA’s airspace, except for the two sites capable of imposing flight restrictions when low-flight training is in progress. When training is not occurring, that airspace also would be shared with private and commercial aircraft.

The Evers MOA expansion is being sought primarily to provide F-16C pilots with the District of Columbia Air National Guard with a training area large enough to accommodate training in air-to-air and air-to-ground combat scenarios, as well as to practice aerial refueling.

Training in the Evers MOA is to take place no higher than 17,999 feet above sea level, to avoid encounters with higher-flying commercial air traffic, and no lower than 1,000 feet above ground elevation, to provide a measure of safety.

Large MOAs that are over land, rather than ocean, are a rarity in the Eastern United States, according to the planning document for the Evers MOA, making it difficult to accomplish combat mission readiness requirements for pilots.

While the expanded MOA would be used mainly by 30 F-16 pilots from the D.C. Air National Guard’s 113th Wing, stationed at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, aircraft from other units and service branches also are expected to use the training zone.

In addition to the F-16s from the 113th Wing, aircraft using the MOA would include F-22 Raptor and F-15E Strike Eagle fighters, and A-10C “Warthog” ground-support attack aircraft, as well as C-17 Globemaster III and C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft and KC-135 Stratotankers.

Keller said the West Virginia National Guard will sponsor an environmental assessment for the Southern West Virginia Military Operations Area. Approval of the new MOA and expansion of the Evers MOA rests with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“One of our goals is to get fighter aircraft using Evers MOA to hot refuel at Yeager,” Keller said.

By refueling without shutting down engines at the Charleston airport and avoiding refueling trips through more congested airspace to the east, the number of daily training sorties can be increased, he said.

Former Charleston city councilman Rick Burka dies

Richard Burka

Former Charleston city councilman Rick Burka died early Friday after fighting health issues over the past few years.

Burka, 62, was a longtime advocate for Charleston’s Kanawha City neighborhood, where he lived for nearly his entire life.

Burka was appointed to the Charleston City Council in 2009 by then-Mayor Danny Jones, who called Burka “honest, very candid and very loyal.”

The two left the City Council in late 2018 — Jones finished his final term as mayor and Burka resigned soon after winning reelection, citing health conditions.

Burka was the founder and president of the Kanawha City Community Association, a service and volunteer group dedicated to preserving the neighborhood atmosphere of Kanawha City.

Andy Richardson and Jerry Ware served multiple terms together on the City Council with Burka. All three were childhood friends and, decades later, sat beside each other in the same row during their last term on the council together.

A 2012 Charleston Daily Mail article profiled the “three amigos” and their friendship that began at Horace Mann Junior High, in Kanawha City.

Ware said he had known Burka since their days at Chamberlain Elementary School, in Kanawha City, where, as sixth-graders, the two patrolled the playground and intersections to keep younger students out of harm’s way.

“Rick was always a good guy — and, basically, he was always a leader,” Ware said.

Richardson recalled a club the three belonged to while at Charleston High School — oftentimes nicknamed the “Hell Raisers” — which he said is a memory of Burka he’ll cherish for eternity.

“It was a far more illustrious description than what the reality was,” Richardson said. “We were all pretty good kids, in the broader scheme of things.”

Besides his time in Morgantown earning a degree from West Virginia University, Richardson and Ware said, Burka spent his nearly all his life in Kanawha City. The passion he had for the neighborhood was present for all to see after Jones appointed him to the City Council.

“He immediately threw himself into working on ways to make the Kanawha City neighborhood a better place to live,” Richardson said. “He truly embraced the community that was in his blood and did everything to keep it moving forward.”

“He fought hard for Kanawha City,” Ware said. “If you look around Kanawha City, a lot of the stuff that’s sitting there is because of Rick Burka.”

In his final years on the City Council, Ware said, while Burka’s health conditions started to become noticeable, it never stopped him from getting the work done.

“You knew he was struggling — but he didn’t say much about it,” Ware said.

Burka worked as an insurance agent in Charleston. He is survived by his wife, Pam; son, Josh; daughter-in-law Sabrina; and daughter, Mallory.

“The greatest tribute to Rick is Pam and the kids,” Richardson said. “Rick was just a fantastic father and very proud of his family.”

Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin ordered all Charleston flags at city facilities to be flown at half-staff beginning today in honor of Burka’s life and service, according to a city news release.

Burka remained president of the Kanawha City Community Association until he died, even after leaving public service.

“I’m going to miss Rick,” Richardson said. “He was a dear friend — a special person in our community that embraced servant leadership and worked tirelessly to make Charleston, and his neighborhood of Kanawha City, a better place and a safer place.”

Ex-nursing assistant Reta May