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Tonight, we remember five soldiers, four men and one woman, killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. All five were loved, respected and proudly served their country.   The female Captain was a West Point graduate. All were exceptional Americans - this is a terrible loss for our Nation.

This is an IGTNT collaborative piece with several contributing writers.  A special thanks to Blue Jersey Mom, Ekaterin and Jax Dem for their work on this.

Since 2001, there have been 2189 American troops killed in Afghanistan. Since January 1, 2013 there were 15 U.S. casualties in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Please bear in mind that these diaries are read by friends and family of the service members chronicled here. May all of our remembrances be full of compassion rather than politics.

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DOD Announces Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the death of five soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

They died March 11, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  The incident is under investigation.  Killed were:

Staff Sgt. Steven P. Blass, 27, of Estherville, Iowa.  He was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.

Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Henderson, 27, of Franklin, La.  He was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.

Capt. Sara M. Knutson, 27, of Eldersburg, Md.  She was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.

Staff Sgt. Marc A. Scialdo, 31, of Naples, Fla.  He was assigned to the 603rd Aviation Support Battalion, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.

Spc. Zachary L. Shannon, 21, of Dunedin, Fla.  He was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.

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"He always wanted to fly helicopters"

Staff Sgt. Steven Blass is being remembered in his hometown of Estherville, Iowa for being a patriotic, thoughtful and respectful man.  Blass joined the Army on March 13th, 2006 and seven years later, he would return home on that same date to the United States in a flag -
draped coffin.  Blass leaves behind a wife, Tricia, and a sixteen month old son named Hayden.  

Blass's aunt Karen Stoller told the television station KTIV:

"I read breaking news that there had just been a blackhawk helicopter crash in Afghanistan right out of Kandahar City, and my heart sank," Stoller said.
...
"Steve left Estherville, left his home to go to basic training, he was so proud and so anxious and so ready. The Army is just where he wanted to be, that was his dream," Stoller said.
...
"He was very focused and always letting us know how much our support meant to him, and how much he loved us," Stoller said.
Staff Sgt. Steven Blass was on his second deployment.  He was a crew chief for  the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.  Blass received several awards including the Air Medal.  

Sources: KTIV.com, Des Moines Register,

Staff Sgt. Steven Blass
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Tribute by Ekaterin.

Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Henderson

Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Henderson, 27, of Franklin, Louisiana, was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia. He was the second service member from Louisiana to die this month while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

CWO Henderson was a native of Fort Necessity, LA. After graduating from Franklin Parish High in 2003, Henderson attended the University of Louisiana at Monroe, from which he graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science in aviation. He enlisted in the Army in 2007. This was his second deployment.

CWO Henderson was honored by his former high school last Wednesday, at a memorial service attended by 750 students. Principal Pat Sartin, who was one of his teachers, described him as "an outstanding young man." She said:

"He was a good student...He was very well thought of around the school...This is just heartbreaking."
Sally Davidson, former department head of aviation at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, said Henderson regularly spoke to aviation students.
"Bryan's heart and soul were in aviation. The last time he came to ULM, he was in uniform and so excited about his helicopter training. He was such a positive role model to these young people, both as a student and as a graduate. This is a sad loss."
ULM President Nick J. Bruno said Bryan made the university proud with his service to our country.

CWO Henderson's awards include the Air Medal.

~LINK~~LINK~

Rest in peace, Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Henderson. You have served with honor.

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This tribute written by Blue Jersey Mom.
Captain Sara M. Knutson Cullen, 27, grew up in Eldersburg, MD, where she attended Freedom Elementary School, Oklahoma Road Middle School, and Liberty High School.  She graduated from high school in 2003. While in high school she was a member of the student government association, the ski club, and the track team. She served as her class’s vice president during her junior year and was also a member of the musical cast that year. After high school graduation, she went on the study law at West Point, where she was also a member of the Judo team.  She graduated from West Point in 2007. Source


Friends and family of the Eldersburg native said Cullen died doing something she loved, that she was drawn to in spite of — or perhaps because of — the challenges and the risks.

"She was always looking for the next adventure, the next challenge, the next task to being a better person," said Katie Owens, her best friend….

Cullen's interests were diverse: camping and the outdoors, getting dressed up to go dancing all night, and long conversations. To spur debate, her mother said, she would take the opposite position as the rest of the class on college term papers. ~Source

Her mother said that:
her daughter wanted to be a pilot when she graduated from West Point.

Lynn Knutson says her daughter, 27-year-old Captain Sara Knutson, made it clear that she didn't join the Army to sit behind a desk. Her daughter had previously been deployed to Pakistan on a humanitarian mission, flying helicopters to help flood victims. ~source

In the Army Capt. Cullen was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Hunter Army Airfield, GA. She was on her first deployment in Afghanistan at the time of her death.  In addition to her service as part of the humanitarian mission to Pakistan, she was also previously stationed at Fort Wainwright in Alaska.

She married a former Black Hawk pilot, Chris Cullen, in November of 2012. Her West Point page indicates that, in addition to her husband, she is survived by her parents, a brother, a sister who is a Major in the US Army, a brother-in-law, and her nieces. In the Army Capt. Cullen was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Hunter Army Airfield, GA. She was on her first deployment in Afghanistan at the time of her death.  In addition to her service as part of the humanitarian mission to Pakistan, she was also previously stationed at Fort Wainwright in Alaska.

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Tribute written by Jax Dem.

Staff Sgt Marc A. Scialdo, 31, Naples Florida.  Black Hawk crew chief.  KIA March 11, 2012
Staff Sgt Marc A. Scialdo, 31, Naples, Florida
Marc Scialdo was a 1999 graduate of St. John Neumann High School where he was a standout baseball player.  Teachers and coaches described him as a good kid, a team player and having an incredible sense of humor, often putting others in a good mood.  The school honored him with a memorial service on Wednesday, March 13th as the flag outside flew at half staff.

In 2002 Scialdo graduated from Edison State College. Marc enlisted in the Army following graduation, driven in part by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Staff Sgt Scialdo was serving as the crew chief of the Black Hawk helicopter.  Scialdo's unit deployed in December and the Staff Sgt had served a previous tour in Iraq.

Marc's mother, Susan Scialdo said he made the family so proud that they gave him the nickname 'The Golden Boy.'

He made our family shine. He lifted us all. He was just an awesome individual. Always helpful, always shining.
Susan said the shock of Marc's death was compounded by the fact that the soldier's 93 year-old grandfather had passed just two days prior.
We’re going to hold it together for Marc because we knew that’s what he’d want us to do. We are going to do whatever it takes to make Marc proud, because he made us proud.
Best friend, Jeff Jackson speaks to how stung he was by the news of Marc's death:
We all knew it was a possibility and he knew it was a possibility too.Knowing Marc - it really made you as a person better. He was that kind of guy.
Anthony Valvano, a friend of 17 years, has always carried Scialdo close to his chest.  He wears Marc's dog tags that were a gift from his best friend.
He knew it was something that he could share with me, that way I'd be able to have a part of him around, even when he wasn't close by.  They definitely mean a lot more now..sorry. We lost a great man. Great husband. Great…
Twenty-two soldiers from  SSgt Scialdo's unit in Georgia are driving down for his funeral. Captain James Elson, president of the Collier County Veterans Council reached out to the Naples Chamber of Commerce to see to it that all the soldiers would receive complementary hotel stays.

Staff Sgt Marc A. Scialdo is survived by his wife, Kara; father, Marshall; mother, Susan and brother, David.

~ Source  ~ Source ~ Source  ~ Source  ~ Source

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Spc. Zachary Shannon
Spc. Zachary Shannon loved the Black Hawk helicopter. Ever since he was a boy, he showed an interest in the Army and the UH-60.  When he was a teenager, his older brother, Robert Mirrione, tried to get Zack to join the Navy and be with him. As soon as Zack found out they didn't have the Black Hawk, he went with the Army.  

Shannon graduated in 2010 from Dunedin High School. He came from a military family with his father and three older brothers all serving in the Armed Forces. Zack followed in their footsteps and soon found his niche: a mechanic for the Black Hawk  helicopter.  

Family and friends described him as a caring, self-less, and proud soldier.  His mother, Kim Allison, said he put his friend's well being before his own and offered to go to Afghanistan.

"If it means a buddy can come home, I'm all for it," Zack once told his mother.
His brother, Robert, told Fox TV in Tampa Bay:
"
He was the best one of all of us," he says. "That makes it the hardest."
The family is still trying to cope with the shock and grief of losing Zack.  The mother, Kim Allison, described the unforgettable moment she got the news.  

From the Dunedin Patch

Kim Allison, a nurse, described the cryptic phone call from her husband, Chip Allison, on the day she learned of Zack's death. She was on the 7 a.m. shift.

"We'll talk when you get home," Chip Allison told her.

As she pulled up to her driveway, she saw her third son Steve Shannon's truck, and a bad feeling crept into her gut.

She opened the front door and saw two men in uniform, and she knew.

"You want to make it go away," she said. "The image of those men in uniform will be stuck in my mind forever."

Funeral arrangements are pending. A Celebration of Spc. Zach Shannon's life is planned on March 24th.  

Source: Dunedin Patch, Dunedin Patch,Fox Tampa Bay

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In Flanders Fields
by Lt. Col. John McRae, MD,  (1872-1918)

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row
That mark our place, and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved,
and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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I Got the News Today is a diary series intended to honor, respect and remind.  Its title is a reminder that almost every day a military family gets the terrible news about a loved one. Diaries about the fallen usually appear two days after their names are officially released, which allows time for the IGTNT team to find and tell their stories.

All of the U.S. fatalities can be seen here and here.  They all had loved ones, families and friends.  The DoD news releases are here.  I Got the News Today is intended to honor, respect and remind.  Click the IGTNT tags below for previous diaries.

Click the IGTNT tags  to see the series, which was begun by i dunno, and which is maintained by  Monkeybiz, Noweasels, Blue Jersey Mom, Chacounne, twilight falling, SisTwo, Spam Nunn,  True Blue Majority, CalNM, Wide Awake in Kentucky, Maggie Jean, Jax Dem, Ekaterina, and me, Sandy on Signal.

Please bear in mind that these diaries are read by friends and family of the service members chronicled here. May all of our remembrances be full of compassion rather than politics.

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