Hundreds of friends and family members of Army Cpl. Justin Clouse gathered at Life Center church Saturday to bid farewell to the soldier killed in a friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan.
Those who spoke during the service spoke of Clouse’s strength, leadership, love of family and love of country. The Rev. Ben Foxworth of SpringHill Bible Church thanked everyone there for their support of Clouse’s family. “Your love and support has comforted them,” he said.
Patriot Guard riders holding American flags lined the sidewalks leading to the church, and uniformed Air Force airmen stood inside the doors. A flag-draped coffin sat in the front of the sanctuary, accompanied by a soldier who stood vigil over the casket.
He died June 9 during an airstrike in the Zabul province in southern Afghanistan. He was serving his second tour of duty in the country.
The Rev. Dale Jenkins of Airway Heights Baptist Church spoke of Clouse’s life, including his baby years.
“He made a big impression right off the bat,” Jenkins said. “He weighed 10 pounds and 10 ounces (at birth).”
Clouse was known as a “gentle giant” who wore the number 23 on the basketball court while he attended Sprague High School. He enlisted in the Army a year after he graduated in 2010 and did his first tour in Afghanistan shortly after he completed his training. While visiting home after his first tour, he met Alexandra Garritson.
“She became the love of his life,” Jenkins said. The couple were engaged to be married in May 2015.
The 22-year-old was an easygoing guy who didn’t care if people stared at him when he wore a panda hat to the grocery store or a green plaid shirt and cowboy hat in Boston.
“That didn’t bother Justin at all,” Jenkins said. “He was his own man.”
Clouse also doted on his baby niece, Ava, Jenkins said.
“His death has left a giant hole – just as he lived as a giant man.”
His uncle, Roger Clouse, called him “an American hero and my hero.”
Clouse had a big smile and loved the outdoors and hunting. Several pictures of Clouse posing with the deer he had successfully hunted over the years were shown during a slide show depicting his life.
He told his uncle that he volunteered to serve in Afghanistan right after he enlisted.
“Basically, he wanted to do it his way,” said Roger Clouse. “He was a caring, loving man. He would want us all to move on and move forward.”
Army Brig. Gen. John Kem presented Clouse’s family with several service medals, a purple heart and the Bronze Star for “meritorious service.” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee presented the family with a flag and a letter of condolence, as did Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
Foxworth spoke of how different it is grieving for a young man than for a person who has lived a long and full life.
“He still had plans,” said Foxworth, the pastor. “He still had hopes. He still had family to love. He still had animals to hunt.”
After the service, an honor guard escorted Clouse’s casket to a waiting hearse, their synchronous footfalls filling the otherwise silent church as bagpipers began to play.
The family was escorted to the nearby Riverside Memorial Park Cemetery by Spokane Police Department and Washington State Patrol motorcycle officers for a graveside service, during which red, white and blue balloons were released into the sky.
Col. Brian Newberry, commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild Air Force Base, attended the funeral.
“We are separate services but we fight as a joint team,” he said. “It’s always important to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”