Two decorated Pennsylvania national guardsmen who had been serving in Afghanistan since last year were killed in a helicopter crash this week, officials announced Wednesday.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matthew Ruffner, 34, of Harrisburg, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jarett Yoder, 26, of Mohnton, near Reading, were piloting an Apache Helicopter during what was described as a reconnaissance mission Tuesday in the eastern Nangarhar Province when the aircraft crashed, according to Staff Sgt. Matt Jones of the state National Guard. The incident remains under investigation.
The men were serving with the state Army National Guard’s Company B, 1-104th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, which is based at Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County. The battalion headed to Afghanistan in August for a yearlong deployment.
“Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers are with the Ruffner and Yoder families,” Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, adjutant general of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “We will support them in their hour of great need. We celebrate the lives of these two Army aviators. They died helping others to be free.”
Yoder’s wife, Heather Garay-Yoder, released a statement Wednesday describing Yoder as her “American hero.”
“He always dreamed of being an Apache pilot and he followed those dreams to continue to fight for our country,” she said in the statement. “Jarett died doing what he loved and dreamed of doing. . .There are so many people who love him and we will never forget.”
Yoder, a graduate of Oley Valley High School in Berks County and Reading Community College, joined the military in 2005 and was deployed to Iraq three years later. Since 2010 he has served as an aviation life support equipment officer and Apache pilot, according to Jones.
Ruffner, originally from Ohio, graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and was employed as a full-time Apache instructor pilot for the guard at Fort Indiantown Gap.
Gov. Corbett also offered his condolences in a statement, saying, “We pray for the safe return of the thousands of Pennsylvania National Guard members currently deployed, and we are grateful to each one of them and their families for the sacrifices they are making on our nation’s behalf.”