The uncle of a Mesa soldier killed in Afghanistan this week described his nephew as someone who loved his family and worried more about others than himself when he decided to join the Army.
Sgt. Aaron Cruttenden, 25, who had lived between Mesa and Colorado so he could spend time with his family, was killed in the violent Kunar Province on Sunday when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire, according to the Department of Defense.
Cruttenden's death marks the 24th casualty from the East Valley during the Middle Eastern conflicts and the second in the Kunar Province in less than two months. Army Pfc. Barbara Vieyra, 22, who grew up on a dairy farm in east Mesa, died from wounds suffered in the Kunar Province when insurgents attacked her unit using an improvised explosive device and rocket-propelled grenades, according to the Department of Defense.
Cruttenden was assigned to the 161st Engineer Support Company, 27th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade and served as a combat engineer during route clearance operations in an attempt to pave a safer environment for the soldiers that followed, according to information from Fort Bragg, N.C. where Cruttenden was stationed.
Cruttenden, who was described by his uncle, Paul White of White Electric in Mesa as a "happy-go-lucky, free spirit" and someone who loved his family, had been in the service since 2008, and was deployed to Afghanistan about eight months ago.
"I'm heartbroken," White told the Tribune on Wednesday. "We're all going between shock and sadness. He was a fine young man who was more worried about the people around him than himself. He was always smiling and willing to help. He never had a bad word for anybody."
Cruttenden is also survived by his mother, Yvonne Feathergill, of Hotchkiss, Colo.; his grandmother, Shirley Wencel of Apache Junction; and a 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Dusti-Rai Ferrin, who he better wanted to support, White said.
Cruttenden attended Thunderbird Academy in Scottsdale but dropped out of high school and obtained his GED. He spent summers in Colorado and the other seasons in Arizona, also earning him the distinction of being a young snowbird, his uncle said.
Before joining the Army, Cruttenden had worked for White Brothers Electric as an apprentice electrician for about two years before joining the service, White said.
"We all called him Moon," White said. "We joked about him kind of being a hippie. He had long hair and was kind of a free spirit. He didn't have a Volkswagen bus, but you could see him driving a Volkswagen bus. He weighed the pros and cons about joining the military and decided to do it. He was worried more about what his family would think about him joining the service than he was. He had a generous nature and friendliness in caring for people."
Cruttenden was awarded numerous medals posthumously including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, according to information from Fort Bragg.
White said he could see his nephew protecting the other soldiers around him.
"He died a hero, and for an honorable cause," White said. "This is a tragic loss for the people around him who loved him. I'm proud of him."
Cruttenden's funeral services are pending and will be held in Colorado.