2 Pa. National Guard soldiers killed in Afghanistan - abc27 WHTM

2 Pa. National Guard soldiers killed in Afghanistan

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Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jarett Yoder was killed in Afghanistan Tuesday. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jarett Yoder was killed in Afghanistan Tuesday.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matthew Ruffner was killed in Afghanistan Tuesday. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matthew Ruffner was killed in Afghanistan Tuesday.
Ruffner and Yoder deployed from Ft. Indiantown Gap in August 2012. Ruffner and Yoder deployed from Ft. Indiantown Gap in August 2012.

Two members of the Pennsylvania National Guard were killed in a helicopter accident in Afghanistan yesterday.

The Pennsylvania Army National Guard on Wednesday identified the guardsmen as Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matthew Ruffner, 34, of Harrisburg, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jarett Yoder, 26, of Mohnton.

They died while piloting an AH-64 Apache Helicopter during a reconnaissance mission Tuesday when their aircraft crashed. They were the only two aboard the helicopter when it crashed. The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force said the cause of the crash is under investigation but initial reporting indicates there was no enemy activity in the area when the helicopter crashed.

Yoder's wife, Heather Garay-Yoder released a statement Tuesday saying Jarett was her American hero. They were newlyweds. 

"He always dreamed of being an Apache pilot and he followed those dreams to continue to fight for our country. Jarett died doing what he loved and dreamed of doing, a true hero. There are so many people who love him and we will never forget. I love you, always and forever. Your loving wife, Heather."

Ruffner and Yoder were among more than 325 members of the 1-104th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion who left Fort Indiantown Gap in August for pre-deployment training in Fort Hood, Texas.

Their mission in Afghanistan, providing aerial support for ground troops using AH-64 Apache helicopters, began at the end of last year. They were scheduled to return to Pennsylvania in September.

The battalion is headquartered in Johnstown but is made up of soldiers from across the state, including about 35 men and women from central Pennsylvania.

Sergeant William Fletcher is a mechanic and worked alongside Ruffner and Yoder. He shared a memory of the two soldiers with abc27's Kendra Nichols.

"It was raining pretty bad out here on the flight line, and we had to go out and tie up some of the helicopters," he said. "Chief Yoder and Matt Ruffner were both out there helping us out, and you usually don't see pilots getting their uniforms wet."

Fletcher said this exemplified the kind of men they were. "It's just something these guys were known for. They would do anything to help out and keep the mission going."

Before deploying, Ruffner was a full-time Apache instructor pilot for the Guard's Army Aviation Support Facility at Fort Indiantown Gap. He was piloting the helicopter when it crashed. This was his first deployment.

He is survived by his parents.

Ruffner was a 1997 graduate of London High School in Ohio and later graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Decorated with the Army Achievement Medal, three Army Reserve Component Achievement Medals and the Parachutist Badge, he originally joined the military in 1997 as a mechanic Ohio. He later transferred to Indiana, Pa. where he completed warrant officer training.

Yoder was a 2005 graduate of Oley Valley High School in Oley, Pa. and attended Reading Community College. He joined the military the same year and has since been awarded the Army Commendation Medal, Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge and Driver and Mechanic Badge.

He first served in Company C, 1st Battalion 111th Infantry as an infantryman. He was deployed Iraq in 2008 and entered the aviation field in 2010. He was as an aviation life support equipment officer and Apache pilot. He was the copilot of the helicopter when it crashed.

He is survived by his wife and parents.

Americans and other foreign troops in Afghanistan rely heavily on helicopters and other aircraft for transportation and to avoid roadside bombs and other dangers on the ground in the mountainous country.

According to the Associated Press, this brings the 2013 death toll in Afghanistan to 25. Nine of the deaths occurred this month.

A total of 53 Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers have died since the war on terror began in 2004. This is more than any other state.

Adjutant general of Pennsylvania, Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, said they lost two of their own today.

"Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers are with the Ruffner and Yoder families. We will support them in their hour of great need. We celebrate the lives of these two Army aviators. They died helping others to be free."

Gov. Tom Corbett said he and his wife, Susan, send condolences to the families of the fallen soldiers.

"We pray for the safe return of the thousands of Pennsylvania National Guard members currently deployed, and we are grateful to each one of them and their families for the sacrifices they are making on our nation's behalf."

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