- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 10, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) - A soldier from southern Ohio was one of five American troops killed this week during an airstrike in southern Afghanistan, a relative said Tuesday.

Military representatives knocked on the door of Justin Helton’s parents’ home in Beaver, a two-hour drive east of Cincinnati, about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday to inform them of his death, said his cousin Mindy Helton.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said the five American troops were killed Monday “during a security operation in southern Afghanistan.”

“Investigators are looking into the likelihood that friendly fire was the cause,” Kirby said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these fallen.”

The five American troops, with a special operations unit, were killed by a U.S. airstrike called in to help them after they were ambushed by the Taliban. As of Tuesday, the Pentagon had not released the names of those killed.

Mindy Helton said her cousin’s immediate family wasn’t commenting publicly.

“Everybody is just so rattled,” she said.

Justin Helton, 25, had been in the Army since 2010 but had been in Afghanistan for only about two months, she said. It was his first deployment, and he expected to be home in about six months, she said.

She said her cousin specialized in dealing with explosives and was based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

“He was a great boy, so full of life and outgoing,” she said. “He loved hunting and the outdoors.”

The 2006 graduate from Eastern High School was known to friends and family as Buck and was a quiet leader, Robert Day, his high school baseball coach, told WCMH-TV in Columbus.

A pastor at Grace Brethren Church in Piketon, Robie Day, Robert Day’s son, told The Columbus Dispatch that he’s known the Helton family for a long time and learned of the death Tuesday morning when he got his first prayer request.

“Justin was one of those kids that always had a smile on his face,” said Robie Day, who told the newspaper he helped his father coach baseball when Helton was on the Eastern team. “He was quiet, but he was a great leader and one of those friends you love to have.”

Of the 30,000 or so U.S. troops left in Afghanistan, special operations forces are among the only ones active on the battlefield, mentoring and advising Afghan commandos during raids.

Tim Hattle, who knew Helton since grade school, told WCMH that he messaged his best friend on Facebook last week.

“Wouldn’t be long until he was home. He said time was really dragging over there. I said, ‘Just don’t worry. You’ll be home soon.’ And to be safe,” Hattle said. “Then I told him I loved him.”

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