Families remember US soldiers killed in airstrike

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MOKENA, Ill. (AP) - The five American troops killed in a friendly fire airstrike included an Illinois soldier who went to Afghanistan a month after his father died, an Ohio man who was engaged to be married, a California Green Beret who only deployed in January, and Washington state man who loved the outdoors.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said the five were killed Monday “during a security operation in southern Afghanistan.” Officials said an airstrike was called in after the unit was ambushed by the Taliban. It was one of the deadliest friendly fire incidents in nearly 14 years of war.

Family representatives of Aaron Toppen of Illinois and Justin Helton of Ohio told The Associated Press that military members came to their relatives’ doors in the middle of the night to deliver the news of the deaths.

Relatives and local schools on Wednesday confirmed the deaths of Justin Clouse of Washington and Staff Sgt. Scott Studenmund of California. The other victim has not yet been identified.

Here is a look at the lives of Toppen, Helton, Studenmund and Clouse:

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Aaron Toppen, 19

Family members of Toppen remembered him as a kind-hearted man who had aspired to a career in the military or law enforcement.

“Aaron was predisposed to serve. He was very keen to be in the military,” his uncle Jack Winter said. “He was quite proud to be there.”

It was the second death of a loved one for the family this year. Toppen, from the Illinois city of Mokena, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago, was set to leave for Afghanistan in February. But his gravely ill father died that month, and he stayed for the funeral. He deployed in March.

Toppen was a graduate of Lincoln-Way East High in Frankfort, Illinois, and loved the outdoors, especially fishing. Family members at the home Tuesday circulated a picture of Toppen as a young child sitting next to his father in a fishing boat.

“He was something somewhat rare in youth culture today. … In a word, I would summarize what he had as ‘class,’” Winter said of his nephew. “So rarely now do you see somebody like that who truly does have class, who’s polite, humble, loyal, who’s a kind-hearted soul, generous.”

Toppen was the youngest of three children.

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Justin Helton, 25

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