A soldier from Berks County has been identified as one of two members of the Pennsylvania National Guard who were killed in a helicopter crash in Nangarhar, Afghanistan on Tuesday, officials said.
The victims were identified as Chief Warrant Ofc. Jarett Yoder, of Brecknock Township, and Chief Warrant Ofc. Matthew Ruffner, of Harrisburg.
"We celebrate the lives of these two brave soldiers. Their selfless service and dedication epitomize what is best in all of us at the Pennsylvania National Guard,"said Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, adjutant general of Pennsylvania.
The two men were members of the 1-104th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, which departed from Fort Indiantown Gap on Aug. 21. They were among 350 soldiers due home in September.
Yoder and Ruffner were piloting an AH-64 Apache helicopter during a reconnaissance mission when the aircraft crashed. It was totally destroyed and consumed by fire, officials said.
"Initial reports do not indicate it was due to hostile action, but to be honest with you, it will take weeks to find out what caused it to go down," said Craig.
"The Apache aircraft are equipped with cameras, those films are going to be reviewed by the crash investigation team," said Col. David Wood, Pennsylvania National Guard.
A teacher who lives in a village near the site said he heard a loud explosion, then saw the helicopter in flames as it plunged to the ground. Initial indications were that there was no enemy activity in the area at the time.
The incident remains under investigation.
"Susan and I offer our sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of Matthew Ruffner and Jarett Yoder, who died serving their country," said Gov. Tom Corbett.
Yoder, 26, was a 2005 graduate of Oley Valley High School, where he participated on the soccer and track teams, and attended Reading Area Community College.
Yoder joined the military in 2005, first serving in Company C, 1st Battalion 111th Infantry as an infantryman. He was deployed in 2008 to Iraq with Company C and the rest of the 56th Stryker Brigade. He entered the aviation career field in 2010 and served as an aviation life support equipment officer and Apache pilot, officials said.
His awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal, Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge and Driver and Mechanic Badge.
Yoder's wife, Heather Garay-Yoder, released the following statement:
"Jarett is my American hero. 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."
The two were married just before his deployment.
Ruffner, 34, was a 1997 graduate of London High School in London, Ohio. He graduated in 2003 from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in criminology. He was most recently employed as a full-time Apache instructor pilot for the Pennsylvania National Guard’s Army Aviation Support Facility at Fort Indiantown Gap.
His awards and decorations include the Army Achievement Medal, three Army Reserve Component Achievement Medals and the Parachutist Badge.
"The Pennsylvania Army National Guard has lost two of its own," said Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, adjutant general of Pennsylvania. "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."
The deaths raise to 53 the number of Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2004. That's more than any other state, officials said.
"It's always difficult because they are part of us, we are a huge large family," said Craig.