Families remember US soldiers killed in airstrike

MOKENA, Ill. (AP) — The five American troops killed in a
friendly fire airstrike included an Illinois soldier who went to
Afghanistan a month after his father died, an Ohio man who was engaged
to be married, a California Green Beret who only deployed in January,
and Washington state man who loved the outdoors.
Pentagon
spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said the five were killed Monday "during a
security operation in southern Afghanistan." Officials said an
airstrike was called in after the unit was ambushed by the Taliban. It
was one of the deadliest friendly fire incidents in nearly 14 years of
war.
Family representatives of Aaron Toppen of Illinois and Justin
Helton of Ohio told The Associated Press that military members came to
their relatives’ doors in the middle of the night to deliver the news of
the deaths.
Relatives and local schools on Wednesday confirmed
the deaths of Justin Clouse of Washington and Staff Sgt. Scott
Studenmund of California. The other victim has not yet been identified.
Here is a look at the lives of Toppen, Helton, Studenmund and Clouse:
___
Aaron Toppen, 19
Family members of Toppen remembered him as a kind-hearted man who had aspired to a career in the military
or law enforcement.
"Aaron
was predisposed to serve. He was very keen to be in the military," his
uncle Jack Winter said. "He was quite proud to be there."
It was
the second death of a loved one for the family this year. Toppen, from
the Illinois city of Mokena, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago, was
set to leave for Afghanistan in February. But his gravely ill father
died that month, and he stayed for the funeral. He deployed in March.
Toppen
was a graduate of Lincoln-Way East High in Frankfort, Illinois, and
loved the outdoors, especially fishing. Family members at the home
Tuesday circulated a picture of Toppen as a young child sitting next to
his father in a fishing boat.
"He was something somewhat rare in
youth culture today. … In a word, I would summarize what he had as
‘class,’" Winter said of his nephew. "So rarely now do you see somebody
like that who truly does have class, who’s polite, humble, loyal, who’s a
kind-hearted soul, generous."
Toppen was the youngest of three children.
___
Justin Helton, 25
Helton
had been in the Army since 2010 but had been in Afghanistan for only
about two months, according to cousin Mindy Helton. It was his first
deployment, and he expected to be home in about six months, she said.
She
said her cousin specialized in dealing with explosives and was based
out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She also said he was engaged. His
parents live in Beaver, a two-hour drive east of Cincinnati, Ohio.
"He was a great boy, so full of life and outgoing," she said. "He loved hunting and the
outdoors."
The
2006 graduate of Beaver’s Eastern High School was known to friends and
family as Buck and was a quiet leader, Robert Day, his high school
baseball coach, told WCMH-TV in Columbus.
Tim Hattle, who had known Helton since grade school, told the station that he messaged his friend on
Facebook last week.
"He
said time was really dragging over there. I said, ‘Just don’t worry.
You’ll be home soon.’ And to be safe," Hattle said. "Then I told him I
loved him."
___
Scott Studenmund, 24
Staff Sgt.
Studenmund of Pasadena, California, was deployed to Afghanistan in
January and was set to return home in August. His mother is former
eHarmony CEO Jaynie Studenmund, and his father is Woody Studenmund, an
economics professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles.
Scott
Studenmund was a 2008 graduate of Flintridge Preparatory School in the
Los Angeles foothill suburb of La Canada Flintridge.
Both schools confirmed his death Wednesday with permission from the family.
Studenmund
was a "brave, virtuous patriot" who played football and ran track at
Flintridge and loved military history and a good debate, the school said
in a statement.
"When I think about Scott’s service, I think of
the Founding Fathers — a virtuous man must be prepared to risk his life,
fortune and sacred honor for his country," Headmaster Peter Bachmann
said in the statement.
Though undersized for a defensive position,
"he made our defense go," football coach and science teacher Glen
Beattie said. "He was aggressive, quick and wouldn’t let anyone block
him or dominate him. He would fight through anything and would not let
himself be defeated."
Studenmund played football at Pitzer College
in Claremont, California, for a year, then took leave to pursue his
"life’s dream" of becoming a Green Beret, the Flintridge statement said.
Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard has requested that flags in the city be flown at half-staff in his honor.
___
Justin Clouse, 22
Clouse, of the tiny town of Sprague, Washington, loved sports and the outdoors, family members said.
He
played basketball and football at Sprague High School, about 30 miles
west of Spokane. In basketball he was the team captain and most valuable
player his senior year.
Clouse enrolled in the Army shortly after graduating.
Orville
Clouse said Wednesday his grandson was an "awesome man" who loved
fishing and hunting. He was planning to leave the military next spring
and get married.
"He was outgoing, and yet quiet," Orville Clouse said. "He was always a hard-working and
ambitious kid."
Justin
Clouse’s parents departed Wednesday for a military base in Delaware,
where his body will return to the U.S., Orville Clouse said.
Residents of the town of 550 people gave them a community send-off Wednesday morning.
Justin Clouse enlisted in the Army in 2010 and was on his second tour in Afghanistan.
___
Associated
Press writers Robert Jablon in Los Angeles and Nicholas K. Geranios in
Spokane, Washington, contributed to this report.