US troops killed in Afghanistan and Africa

AP News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2009 10:19 AM

Army Spc. Aaron S. Aamot

Aaron Aamot was fifth in a family of eight children and grew up in a small town called Custer _ a place his father referred to as the "backside of the sticks."

There, in north Washington state, Aamot was in the 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America program. He raised pheasants and bobwhite quail. He even had his own golden raspberry field on his parents' small farm.

"Raising and showing chickens at the fair was a big deal for him," said his older brother, Matt Aamot. "He kind of took after me."

Aaron Aamot, 22, was killed by a roadside bomb Nov. 5 in Jelewar. He was based at Fort Lewis, some 150 miles south of where he grew up.

"I still think of him as a kid, even though he's 22," his brother said. "He was a real fun kid. He was great with his nephews and nieces, just easygoing. He was a nice brother. I'm honored to have been his brother."

Aamot graduated from Ferndale High School in 2006, the same year he enlisted. He deployed to Afghanistan for the first time in July.

"I'm pretty heartbroken, but I'm proud of his service," Matt Aamot said.

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Army Spc. Julian L. Berisford

Julian Berisford wanted to be there for his daughter's first steps, so he asked his wife to hold little Mya back just until he could come home.

He was supposed to come home in November to celebrate Mya's first birthday.

The Army specialist who loved hunting, fishing _ and "the great outdoors," as he wrote on his MySpace page _ was proud of his family and proud of being a soldier, said Berisford's cousin Randi Jo Chavanak.

"The only thing he said before he left was that he was going to do things right for families like ours," Chavanak said. "He was going to fight for families."

Berisford, 25, of Benwood, W.Va., was killed Nov. 4 in Paktika province when insurgents attacked his unit. He was assigned to Fort Richardson. He graduated from John Marshall High School in 2002 and enlisted in February 2007.

Berisford's interests are clear from his MySpace page _ he professes his love for West Virginia University sports and has several photos of a fishing trip to Canada. Also posted are numerous photos of his wife, Gina, and his daughter.

"He was a jokester and a fun-loving guy and always smiling," said Cathy Jones, whose son went to school with Berisford.

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Marine Staff Sgt. Charles I. Cartwright

Charles Cartwright had been wounded in combat before _ he had received two Purple Hearts before his death _ but still fought without fear, a fellow Marine said.

Staff Sgt. Gerald Hooee Jr., who served in Iraq with Cartwright, recalled one of their missions to draw enemy fire.

"We sat there for about 45 minutes to an hour, and I'm dodging bullets the whole time, and he's standing there saying, 'Hey, what are you doing? Get up,'" Hooee said. "Is he crazy? But he stood there, firm in his position."

Cartwright, 26, of Union Bridge, Md., died Nov. 7 in Farah province. He was assigned to Camp Pendleton. He was serving his second tour in Afghanistan and had served three tours in Iraq since joining the Marines in 2001.

During that same mission, Hooee said, the two Marines encountered more gunfire on a rooftop. Hooee fell backward onto a staircase as he ducked behind some boxes.

"It was one of those moments where he picks me up, pulls me up, we look at each other and just start laughing. I mean how many people do that?" Hooee said.

Cartwright's family said he enjoyed running, having run a marathon in California and a triathlon, as well as surfing and strolls along the beach with his wife and dog.

Among the survivors are his wife, Marissa; parents, Carol Ann and Michael; and his sister, Rebecca Ann.

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Army Staff Sgt. John J. Cleaver

Friends and family say John J. Cleaver had wanted to be like his grandfather, a World War II veteran who lost his left leg in the Battle of the Bulge.

When he was a teenager and broke his arm, Cleaver worried he wouldn't be able to enlist in the military.

"It bothered him. He didn't want that to hold him back," said cousin Jason Schuler.

Cleaver, 36, of Marysville, Wash., died Nov. 19 in Zabul province of wounds suffered when a suicide car-bomber attacked his unit. He was assigned to Fort Bragg.

He is survived by his two sons, Collin and Aidan Cleaver; and his parents, Ronald and Teresa Cleaver, of Joplin, Mo.

John Cleaver attended Galena High School in Missouri, then Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark., where he learned to fly small aircraft. He also attended Crowder College in Missouri, where he became a certified emergency medical technician.

Cleaver joined the Navy in 1995, serving in Kosovo and Iraq.

After 10 years of service, he left the Navy and joined the Army.

Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Griffey, who served with Cleaver, described the soldier as both disciplined and generous.

"John was very meticulous," Griffey said. "He was the most disciplined soldier we had in our company."

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Army Spc. Christopher J. Coffland

Christopher Coffland had traveled the world, playing professional football in the cold of Finland and learning to evade elephants and leopards living with a tribe of Pygmy hunters in Africa.

He amassed an impressive collection of art and owned a restored 1968 Chevy Camaro. He grew up in a blue-collar home but later rubbed elbows with debutantes at parties. But it wasn't enough. So he joined the Army, embracing his task of gathering intelligence from the locals in Afghanistan.

"I feel as comfortable talking to a head of state as I do a second-shift factory worker, and since I know both worlds, I am able to integrate into either without a trace of unfamiliarity," he wrote in a letter to the Army, explaining why he was qualified for intelligence work.

Coffland, 43, of Baltimore was killed by a roadside bomb Nov. 13 in Wardak province. He was assigned to Fort Meade.

He was closer to his sister Lynn than anyone else, often staying with her in between adventures. Friends and family often hoped he would settle down, but his constant desire to do something fulfilling is what kept him changing jobs _ and what brought him to the Army.

"He respected his friends, adored them," Lynn Coffland said. "But he could not settle for what was not in his heart."

Coffland is also survived by his parents; a brother; and two other sisters.

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Army Sgt. Daniel A. Frazier

Daniel A. Frazier was a quiet guy who found simple ways to have fun: playing with his nieces and nephews, mud bogging in his Dodge 4x4, testing his video game skills on his Xbox and dining at Burger King.

"Sgt. Frazier always started and finished his days the same way, with a smile on his face," said Capt. Burton Furlow, who led Frazier's company at Fort Bragg. "He earned the respect of subordinates, peers and superiors alike."

The 25-year-old from St. Joseph, Mich., was killed Nov. 19 in Zabul province when a suicide car bomber attacked his base during his second tour of duty in Afghanistan.

In down time, he enjoyed spending time with family members, who said his smile always put others at ease.

Frazier graduated in 2003 from St. Joseph High School and joined the Army three years later.

"He was very quiet and really a nice kid," said district Superintendent Al Skibbe, who was Frazier's middle school principal. "He was just one of those super kids you love to have in school."

Frazier is survived by his wife, Brittany; father, David; mother, Roxana Walter; and six siblings.

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Army Spc. Gary L. Gooch

Gary Gooch may have lived most of his life in Florida, but one of the first things he wanted to do while he was on leave over Thanksgiving was take a snowboarding trip.

"For some reason, he just loves the cold," said Keely Murphy, Gooch's older sister.

Gooch, 22, was killed by a roadside bomb Nov. 5 in Jelewar. He enlisted after graduating from Dunnellon High School in 2006, and was assigned to Fort Lewis.

The soldier at times lived with his cousin, Megan Crowley, who was 10 years older. She remembered a loving young man who often accompanied Crowley and her girlfriends on outings. He also used to collect model John Deere tractors, she said.

"He used to sing that song, 'She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy,'" Crowley said, referring to the country anthem by Kenny Chesney.

Lynn Bazinet said her nephew Richard Lind _ whom she raised _ and Gooch were inseparable. The two would stay up all night watching movies when they could, then sleep until 2 p.m. Then the pair woke up to their own breakfast of champions: pizza rolls.

"He said it was the world's most perfect food," Bazinet said.

Gooch is also survived by his mother, Jeanine Murphy; father and stepmother, Gary and Patty Gooch; stepsister Brittany Marie Gooch; and numerous other relatives.

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Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas J. Hand

Nicholas J. Hand was always playing the role of older brother, whether he was marshalling his nine siblings to do chores at home in Kansas City, Mo., or leading his squad in Afghanistan.

"He was good at encouraging people and motivating them without being harsh at it," said his brother Brandon.

He said Nicholas was patriotic as a student and used to write quotes from military leaders and the Founding Fathers on his whiteboard.

Hand graduated early from Oak Park High School to join the Marines at 17.

In early November, Hand visited home, where he often ended up roughhousing with his brothers. Three weeks later, on Nov. 22, the 20-year-old was killed by small arms fire in Helmand province. He was assigned to Camp Lejeune and previously served in Iraq.

"He had his biological family, and he had his Marine family," said his mother, Dawn. "You watched his face light up, and you knew that in your heart he was with his family there."

She called Hand "a socialite" who made time for everyone in his large family, who is remembering him as "a good Marine, but a better brother."

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Marine Lance Cpl. Shawn P. Hefner

If Shawn P. Hefner was afraid of much, it didn't show, or so say his comrades and friends from his small hometown of Hico, Texas.

They have tales about the school field trip where he stripped to go "naked cliff diving," or the time he was thrown off when he tried to break a mustang and it nearly broke him. In another, a choked-up soldier said Hefner carried him to safety after an explosive hit their truck.

Hefner was killed Nov. 13 by a bomb in Helmand province, weeks before his 23rd birthday. He was assigned to Camp Lejeune.

Patrick Hefner said his son loved to go camping and fishing. "If it could be done outdoors, that's where he wanted to be," he said.

The 2006 graduate of Hico High School had been rambunctious but respectful and a "good-hearted kid," even when he got into trouble, superintendent Rod Townsend said.

And he knew how to keep a promise to his mother, Robin, who'd asked him to take photos overseas.

"They were carting him off in helicopters, and he was lying on his back taking pictures of his buddies up in front of him" after an attack last year, his father said.

Other survivors include a sister and brother.

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Army Spc. Joseph M. Lewis

In his elementary school days, Joseph M. Lewis was one of the restless kids battling in water gun fights on the streets of Bedford, Texas.

"I told a principal, I know he's not going to be the next pope, but if he becomes a stand-up comedian or a senator, I'll be happy," said his mother, Pam.

Instead, young Joey lived up to his later nickname, "G.I. Joe," and joined the Army in 2005 after graduating from L.D. Bell High School.

The 26-year-old from Terrell, Texas _ where his family had moved when he was a teen _ died Nov. 17 in Kandahar of wounds from an explosive. He was assigned to Fort Lewis.

His mother said Lewis' experiences in Afghanistan included sharing tea with village elders who gave him fruit and figs.

"He said it was really awesome," she said.

Back home, his wife, Teresa, awaited his return with their infant daughter. It was for them, relatives said, that Lewis had traded in his sporty Pontiac Trans Am for a more practical Chevrolet Tahoe.

"He was fun-loving and would do anything to help others," his family said.

Other survivors include his father, Mike, and sister, Amanda.

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Army Sgt. Jason A. McLeod

Jason A. McLeod met his future bride, Aimee, when they were youngsters at day camp in Illinois, but they didn't reconnect for about a decade. Then she was hooked.

He always kept a positive outlook and smiled even in tough times, she said, describing him as "the most wonderful man I ever met in my life."

McLeod, 22, of Crystal Lake, Ill., died Nov. 23 west of Pashmul after his unit was attacked with mortar fire. He was assigned to Fort Carson and had previously served in Iraq.

The 2006 graduate of Crystal Lake Central High School and his best friend, Brandon, enjoyed skateboarding, playing video games and camping, said Brandon's mother, Robin Rogers. She said McLeod had hoped to go back to school.

"He joined the Army as a stepping stone to what he wanted to do," said McLeod's mother-in-law, Julie Ghannam. "He was trying to make himself a life. He was a great person, he grew up young."

She said McLeod adored his 15-month-old daughter, Jocelyn Elizabeth, who saw him via a Web camera while he was deployed. McLeod is also survived by his mother, Barbara; father, Gregory; brother, Justin; and sister, Jacquee.

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Army Sgt. James M. Nolen

James M. Nolen had a bit of tunnel vision when it came to being an infantryman.

It was "all he ever wanted to do," said his wife, Rachel Anne Nolen.

He also was dedicated to his family and, even overseas, was preparing for another big task: playing the proud papa to a new baby. He anticipated the weekly pregnancy update e-mails from his wife, who let him listen to the infant's heartbeat when they talked on the phone.

But the 25-year-old dad-to-be from Alvin, Texas, died of wounds from a roadside bomb in Zabul province on Nov. 22, less than two weeks shy of his first wedding anniversary. He had deployed in late summer for his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, hoping he'd return after only a year this time.

He was assigned to Fort Bragg, where fellow paratroopers said they would remember him as a "true soldier."

"Nothing could take away from his warm personality," they said in a statement. "His caring smile and willingness to help others were his most identifiable features."

Nolen had attended Bay Area Christian School and joined the Army in 2005.

Survivors include his parents and his stepson, William.

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Army Staff Sgt. Matthew A. Pucino

Matthew Pucino could withstand the rigors of the Army _ but he couldn't sneak a pocketknife past security at Walt Disney World.

His brother-in-law, Phil Haglof, said Pucino was initially asked to leave the knife in his car, but then tried to sneak it in through another entrance. This time, a security guard with a gold Mickey Mouse badge caught him.

"We always made fun of him that this Green Beret was busted by a Mickey cop," Haglof told a crowd at Pucino's memorial service.

Pucino, 34, of Cockeysville, Md., was killed by a roadside bomb Nov. 23 in Pashay Kala. He was assigned to the Maryland National Guard in Glen Arm, Md.

The special forces soldier was remembered as a selfless person who gave of himself for others. Army Sgt. 1st Class Dan Dosier recalled the time he was shot during a raid. Pucino held his hand and told jokes as they rode back to the base hospital.

Pucino also donated two pints of blood for his friend _ and then hopped into the helicopter so he could head back to the war zone.

"This left Matt pretty weak but that's the kind of friend he was," Dosier said.

Pucino is survived by his parents, Albert and Kathryn; sisters Lisa Haglof and Melissa Pucino; and a niece and three nephews.

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Army Sgt. Benjamin W. Sherman

Ben Sherman knew how to make people feel comfortable, whether by entertaining them with a practical joke or saying exactly what they needed to hear.

"Ben always had a way of making people feel good about themselves," said his wife, Patricia, who is expecting the couple's first child in March.

Sherman, a 21-year-old Army paratrooper from Plymouth, Mass., drowned Nov. 4 in Afghanistan's Badghis province. He was swept away as he tried to recover air-dropped supplies that had accidentally fallen into a river, police in Afghanistan said.

His family said they believe he died trying to rescue a fellow soldier on the same assignment who also drowned.

"He was an amazing guy," his wife said. "He was very outgoing. He gave the world his all. ... He would stop what he was doing and go help somebody who was in need."

Sherman, a 2006 graduate of Plymouth South High School, was assigned to Fort Bragg.

He loved baseball, football and basketball, and liked to hit golf balls at the driving range on weekends, Patricia Sherman said. He also loved any kind of raucous rock music with a lead singer who screamed, she said.

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Marine Lance Cpl. Justin J. Swanson

Justin Swanson's seven-month deployment was set to end within weeks, and he had expected to be home in California with his family for Christmas.

Instead, a funeral was held for him before Thanksgiving.

The 21-year-old Marine was "full of love for his family and home and dedicated to the protection of others," said Lt. Col. William McCollough, commander of Swanson's Camp Pendleton-based 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment.

Swanson, of Anaheim, was killed Nov. 10 in Helmand province when a bomb exploded beneath the Humvee he was driving.

At a memorial service in Afghanistan, McCollough thought of his own young sons, saying he hoped they would show as much "courage and resolve" as Swanson did.

Swanson played on the Buena Park High football team and graduated in 2006 _ the same year he enlisted.

He served one tour in Iraq, then volunteered to go to Afghanistan.

"He was a great big brother, a great son, a great friend," said Scott Hessenaur, Swanson's stepfather for nine years. "There were many times when I was down and he'd just come up and sit next to me, put his arm around me and tell me it's OK. Many times, he saved my sanity."

Swanson also is survived by his father, Les Swanson; mother, Mary Hargrove; and sister Kayla Kirkpatrick.

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Army Pfc. Marcus A. Tynes

Marcus Tynes had a "bubbly personality," his mother said, and by all accounts he was caring and full of laughter.

"When I hear 'Marcus Tynes,' I think of fun, jokes and laughter," said Anthony Moxley Sr., who coached Tynes on a basketball team.

Tynes, 19, of Moreno Valley, Calif., was killed Nov. 22 in Kandahar province, when the vehicle he was in was hit by a roadside bomb. He was based at Fort Bragg.

"He was very happy about being there," said Tynes' mother, Dana Atlas. "It was what he wanted to do. He enjoyed serving his country, he loved traveling. He loved the Lord and he loved life."

Atlas said her son graduated from Valley View High School. He played basketball and football for the school and got involved in a program called Police Explorers.

"He was a loving kid, he was very concerned about other people," she said. "Always had a smile _ a contagious smile."

He is survived by his mother and stepfather, Bruce Atlas; his father, Marcus Tynes Sr.; and a stepbrother, Johanas Atlas.