POSTED: 02:17 p.m. HST, Apr 20, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 03:25 p.m. HST, Apr 20, 2012
A 23-year-old Schofield Barracks soldier was killed in the crash of a Black Hawk helicopter in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, a close friend confirmed.
All four American crew members were killed as the chopper responded to a suicide attack on a police checkpoint during a night flight in bad weather, the Associated Press reported.
Jessica Robertson said one of those killed was her friend, Dean Shaffer, of Pekin, Ill. Shaffer's Facebook page said he lived at Wheeler Army Airfield and was a crew chief with the 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment.
"He always had a smile on his face. He was just a very happy person all the time," said Robertson, who knew Shaffer from their days in the junior ROTC program at Pekin Community High School.
The military as of today had not confirmed the identities of the fallen soldiers or whether the Black Hawk was based out of Wheeler. The Pentagon waits 24 hours after next-of-kin are notified to release the names of combat casualties.
In January, about 2,600 Hawaii soldiers with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade left for a yearlong deployment to southern Afghanistan. The unit deployed with all of its roughly 90 Black Hawk, Chinook and Kiowa Warrior helicopters.
The aviation brigade, with the addition of more than 400 soldiers and Apache attack helicopters from Colorado, was to be based at Kandahar, Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province and Forward Operating Base Wolverine in Zabul province, officials said.
Shaffer's death, and the other soldiers aboard, if they are from Schofield, represent the first fatalities for the aviation brigade on the deployment.
The Pentagon said today only that four International Security Assistance Force service members died in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan, and that the cause of the crash is under investigation. The 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii referred questions to an Afghanistan command.
The chief of the Garmsir district in southern Helmand province, Mohammad Qayum Gorbaki, said the helicopter was flying to the scene of a suicide bombing in his area when it crashed late Thursday because of bad weather, according to the Associated Press.
Four Afghan police officers were killed and seven others were wounded in the suicide attack on the checkpoint, the AP reported.
Robertson said she and Shaffer talked on the phone almost every day before the deployment while he was in Hawaii. He was home in Pekin, Ill. for Christmas and left just a few days before the New Year holiday, she said.
He had always wanted to go into the Army and had deployed once before to Iraq, she said.
"He talked about (joining the Army) ever since I met him," Robertson said. "He already had plans. He signed up his junior year and went full active (duty) after he graduated."
Shaffer, who was single, was supposed to get out of the Army after the deployment, she said.
"He was finishing his last year," she said. "He was supposed to be out next March and he wasn't going to re-enlist after that. He was going to be done."
Robertson said her friend planned to become an electrician.
"He was a very open and loving man," she said. "He would do anything for anybody if they needed him to."