YAKIMA – A helicopter pilot from Washington was one of two soldiers killed Tuesday in Afghanistan.
Aaron R. Blanchard, a 32-year-old Army captain from Selah, had been stationed at a forward operating base when it was struck by missile fire, killing him and 26-year-old 1st Lt. Robert J. Hess of Fairfax, Va., the Defense Department announced Friday. They were assigned to the 2nd Aviation Battalion, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.
A graduate of Selah High School, Blanchard served two combat tours in Iraq as a Marine before attending Central Washington University’s ROTC program to obtain an officer’s commission and then becoming an Army helicopter pilot. In Afghanistan, he was to pilot an AH-64D Apache Longbow.
“Being a pilot is a very competitive thing, and he excelled at it because he wanted it so bad,” Blanchard’s mother, Laura Schactler, said Thursday. “He was living his dream, and not very many of us get to do that.”
Blanchard’s body was returned to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Thursday, where family members were waiting to receive it. Schactler said her son’s body won’t arrive in Selah until sometime next week.
Blanchard had been based at Fort Drum with his wife, Becky, and children Hunter and Amalia since late 2011.
He had only been in Afghanistan for about a week before he was killed. He was stationed in Logar Province.
Blanchard grew up in Selah, where he graduated from high school in 1999 before enlisting in the Marines in 2000 and serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He went to CWU’s ROTC program after five years in the Marines because he needed a college degree and an officer’s commission to fly.
His desire to improve had always been apparent, friends and family said.
“He was hard on himself for everything he did because he always wanted to be better,” Chief Warrant Officer Will St. Clair recalled. “He didn’t realize, and we didn’t tell him, that he was as good as he was. … I wish I’d told him more.”
“He had a smile that could light up the room, always had a good attitude, always trying to find the humor in anything,” he said. “But when you needed him to, he could be a warrior.”