The Rural Soldiers on the Chinook
[imgbelt img=Vickers.jpeg]Nine out of the 30 American soldiers who died on a single helicopter a week ago Saturday came from rural communities.
[imgcontainer left] [img:Vickers.jpeg] [source]The Maui NewsRobert Vickers Sr. stands next to a photo of his son, Kraig Vickers, who was on the Chinook aircraft downed by enemy fire in Afghanistan. The photo was taken by Melissa Tanji for The Maui News at the Vickers family home in Kokomo, Hawaii.
Nine of the 30 Americans who died when a chopper was struck by enemy fire in Afghanistan, came from rural communities.
The Chinook helicopter was hit by enemy fire Saturday, August 6, in the Tangi Valley of eastern Afghanistan. Twenty-two of the 30 men killed were Navy SEALs. This was the deadliest day for U.S. forces in the 10-year history of the war.
The Department of Defense released all the names and hometowns of those killed on the chopper late last week, including a “home of record.”
Since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, studies have found that a disproportionate number of those killed in the conflicts or just recruited into the military hail from rural America.
The tragedy in the Tangi Valley again reveals this disparity in who is fighting this country’s wars.
In 2009, 16 percent of the nation’s population lived in a rural county. Of the 30 men who died in the Chinook helicopter, however, 30 percent (nine of 30) came from rural communities.
The percentage of casualties in that single chopper coming from rural America was nearly twice what one would expect if members of the military came randomly from across the country.
(The Defense Department reports a “home of record” for every service member. This is provided by the service member. In two cases among the 30 killed in this incident, the Yonder found that the home of record was not the community where the service member grew up.)
Here are the nine rural soldiers killed a week ago Saturday in Afghanistan and excerpts from stories in their local papers:
Thomas Ratzlaff, Navy SEAL, Green Forest, Arkansas
From the Carroll County News:
To honor Tommy Ratzlaff, the Navy SEAL who was killed when his helicopter was shot down by insurgents in Afghanistan on Aug. 6, Mayor Charlie Reece proclaimed Aug. 8-14 Tommy Ratzlaff Week.
His voice choked with emotion, Reece asked alderman Willa Kerby to read the proclamation at Monday night’s city council meeting.
“…Tommy Ratzlaff’s dream was to be a Navy Seal upon graduation from Green Forest High School in 1995 … Tommy Ratzlaff defined what it means to be an American fighting man and an American family man,” the proclamation reads. “Through his actions and dedication exemplified the meaning of love, honor and duty to family and country … Tommy Ratzlaff exhibited the faith in God and country that is part of his Green Forest upbringing.”
Reece encouraged “all citizens in Green Forest and Northwest Arkansas to appreciate and recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by this American hero.”
Jason Workman, Navy SEAL, Blanding, Utah
Rockford residents always knew native Jon Tumilson, 35, had a dangerous job as a U.S. Navy SEAL, but they never expected the news they received over the weekend that he was among the 30 Americans killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan on Friday.
“You just hear about it all the time, but it never hits home until it’s home,” said Mark Biggs, a neighbor who knew Tumilson his whole life.
“Everybody that knew him is just shocked,” he said. “You just never thought it would happen to Jon. He’s done so many dangerous things.”
Lifelong friend Justin Schriever, Rockford, agreed and said the community of around 900 people was taking the news “hard.”
“Jon really left a mark,” he said. “Every time he came back everybody wanted to see him.
“Coming from a small town and what he accomplished as a Navy SEAL fighting for his country — it was a miracle,” Schriever added.
Tumilson, the son of George and Kathy Tumilson, Rockford, joined the Navy after graduating from Rockford High School in 1995. From there he worked his way up to the U.S. Navy SEALs.
“Basically all the way through school, at least the later part, he had his mind made up that’s what he wanted to do,” Schriever said. “He told himself and all his friends and family that’s what he was going to do.”
“Hell, while training they were going to kick him out because his knees were all battered up,” he said. “He wouldn’t let them.”
David Carter, Chief Warrant Officer, U.S. Army and Bryan Nichols, Chief Warrant Officer, U.S. Army, both from Hays, Kansas
David Carter was set to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary in December. Bryan Nichols was looking forward to coming home to visit his wife and 10-year-old son.
Instead, families of two fallen soldiers — both with ties to Hays — now are making funeral arrangements for their loved ones.
Nichols, 31, and Carter, 47, were pilots of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter shot down Saturday in Afghanistan. The chopper reportedly was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, blowing the Chinook into several pieces, and all 30 Americans and eight Afghans aboard died in the crash.
Carter of Aurora, Colo., is a 1982 graduate of Hays High School and has lived in Colorado for several years.
Nichols graduated from Thomas More Prep-Marian in 1998 and was a member of an Army reserve unit at New Century AirCenter in Gardner in the Kansas City area.
Penny McGinnis from Hays talked about the last time she saw Carter, about a year ago when he flew into the Hays airport.
McGinnis and Carter attended the same church in Hays — High Plains Baptist — as youngsters.
“He called to see if I wanted to bring the kids and my husband out to see the helicopter,” McGinnis said. “My parents were here from Oklahoma, and they were very excited to see him.
“You could tell the pride that he had in what he did,” McGinnis said. “But he is very humble at the same time.”
“Just a really good guy,” said Chief Warrant Officer-2 Michael Kelly of Fort Rucker, Ark.
Kelly and Nichols were classmates in the same flight school and graduated together in 2008.
“We went through the C-47 course together,” said Kelly, who described the C-47 as “a tough bird.”
The chopper reportedly was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade.
“It takes a lot to bring one of them down,” Kelly said. “It had to be a big hit.”
Heath Robinson, Navy SEAL, Petoskey, Michigan
A Petoskey High School graduate was killed when a rocket propelled grenade struck his helicopter Saturday in Afghanistan.
Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Heath M. Robinson, 34, of Detroit, was among the 30 U.S. military — 17 Navy SEALs and five Navy special operations troops — killed in the CH-47 Chinook crash, making it the deadliest attack in the 10-year war in Afghanistan. Eight Afghan commandos and a civilian interpreter were also killed. The Navy SEALs were responding to U.S. Army Rangers under fire at the time of the crash, according to the Associated Press.
Robinson was a 1995 Petoskey High School graduate who joined the military following his senior year, joining the Navy SEALs early in his career. He served in two West Coast base Special Warfare Units from March 2000 to April 2004 and four East Coast based Special Warfare Units from April 2004 to August 2011, according to his service record…
The family has requested the public respect their privacy. The News-Review will not be reporting further personal details at this time at the request of friends and family of the deceased.
Jesse Pittman, Navy SEAL, Ukiah, California
Pittman graduated from Willits High School in 2002. He served as a CalFire firefighter in the Mendocino Unit in 2003-2004 before enlisting in the Navy.
[imgcontainer left] [img:Pittman.jpeg] Navy SEAL Jesse Pittman
Wilkes admits trying to talk Pittman out of quitting CalFire and a career as a firefighter, but Pittman was committed to becoming a SEAL.
“I hope this community rallies together and does something to honor this young man,” says Wilkes. “I want to be part of that.”
“We are just so devastated,” says family friend Peggy Hebrard. “It would really be nice if this community could put out their flags in his honor. It would be a nice tribute.”
Flags in front of the Little Lake Firehouse and Willits City Hall were lowered to half staff Monday as news of the loss spread through the community. On Sunday, Mendocino Unit CalFire members received permission to shroud their badges in Pittman’s honor.
Kraig Vickers, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician, U.S. Navy, Kokomo, Hawaii
A photograph of Kraig Vickers in his Navy uniform hung on a wall beneath a cross alongside photos of other family members in his childhood home.
Asked if his son’s photo was always under the cross, his father, Robert Vickers Sr., chuckled, before going to answer the phone, which has been constantly ringing of late.
The person on the other end of the line could have been a relative or friend offering condolences, someone planning his son’s funeral, or a member of the news media.
On Monday afternoon, members of the Vickers family continued to see a constant stream of visitors to their Kokomo home, as they coped with the loss of 36-year-old Kraig Vickers, who was one of 30 American service members killed when a military helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. The 1992 Maui High School graduate was a Navy explosive ordnance disposal specialist attached to a Navy SEAL unit.
“It doesn’t feel real,” said the serviceman’s sister-in-law Lei Vickers, who teared up, off and on, as she sat with the family at the Vickers’ dinning room table, reminiscing about the loved one they’d lost…
After graduating from high school, where he was a popular football and wrestling standout, Kraig Vickers attended Evangel College in Missouri on a football scholarship. But during his freshman year, he decided college wasn’t for him and returned home, his father said.
He worked in jobs such as hotel security and then asked his father to teach him how to dive; the son remembered how his father learned to scuba dive while in the Air Force.
Kraig Vickers joined the Navy in 1996. He wanted to be a Navy SEAL, his father said, but instead became an explosive ordnance disposal specialist.
Aaron Vaughn, Navy SEAL, Union City, Tennessee
As children, we are constantly asked what we want to be when we grow up. For Aaron Carson Vaughn the answer was a no-brainer. Even at a very young age Vaughn always wanted to join the Navy; he wanted to be a SEAL. At 6 feet, 4 inches tall and a muscular 200 pounds, Vaughn was what you would picture a Navy SEAL to be. An athlete in high school and an avid hunter, Vaughn was the picture-perfect warrior…
Vaughn’s paternal grandmother, Geneva Vaughn says that she wants everyone to remember her grandson as a Christian first and foremost. She said she has no doubt that her grandson is secure in God’s love today. Geneva Vaughn spoke as the family made the trip to Dover, Del. to receive Aaron Vaughn’s body.
“He always stood firm in his conviction that he wanted to be a Navy SEAL,” said Geneva Vaughn. “He was a warrior but yet he was a gentle man. He loved to play with his little boy and he was a wonderful father.”