World & Nation

California, Washington soldiers identified among five killed in Afghanistan

A 24-year-old Pasadena man has been identified as one of five soldiers who were killed during security operations in southern Afghanistan earlier this week, school officials said.

Scott Studenmund, remembered as a “beloved member” of his class at Flintridge Prepatory School, was killed Monday, according to a statement released by Headmaster Peter Bachmann.

“When I think about Scott’s service, I think of the Founding Fathers — a virtuous man must be prepared to risk his life, fortune and sacred honor for his country,” Bachmann said in the statement. “This sentiment guided Scott. Please hold him fast in your memories.”

School officials and relatives have identified three of the other victims as Justin Clouse, 22, of Sprague, Wash.; Justin Helton, 25, of Beaver, Ohio; and Aaron Toppen, 19, of Mokena, Ill.


Studenmund is survived by his parents and younger sister, according to the statement. He graduated from Flintridge in 2008, where he was a standout football and track star.

He took a leave of absence from Pitzer college to train to become a Green Beret, a designation he earned in 2013. He worked as a sniper based in Clarksville, Tenn., before he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2014, the statement read. 

Teachers remembered him as a popular and driven student who rarely fell short of a goal.

“He would see his objective and do it. This single-mindedness made him a really good football player, and it also reflected Scott’s personality in other facets of his life,” football coach Glen Beattie said in the statement.


Military officials have released few details about the incident. The soldiers were in a clash with Taliban forces in the remote Zabul province Monday night, and Afghan officials briefed on the matter have said a coalition airstrike mistakenly targeted soldiers that were battling Taliban insurgents.

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

Clouse, a standout basketball player at Sprague High School in Washington, had been home on leave a week before the attack, Principal Bill Ressel told The Times.

“The biggest thing that we want to portray is what a great kid he was,” he said. 

Clouse often talked of joining the military with his basketball coach, and was actually on his second tour  of duty in Afghanistan, Ressel said. The 22-year-old, who graduated from high school in 2010, is survived by his parents and younger brother, Josh.

“Josh really looked up to him. It’s pretty tough on him,” Ressel said. “They were real close, (Justin) was what everyone would want in a older brother.”

Toppen, 19, of Mokena, Ill., has also been identified as one of the five killed in the clash, according to a Facebook post from his sister. 

“At midnight last night my mom’s doorbell rang and we received the news that my little brother was one of the five involved in friendly fire in Afghanistan,” wrote his older sister Amanda Grawleski. “My brother lost his life doing what he always wanted to do since he was a little boy.”


Toppen’s Facebook page was full of pictures of the teenager wearing fatigues, and included one image that seemed to indicate a credo for joining the armed forces.

“I stand between the innocent and harm not because I should ... but because I can,” the caption read.

Helton, who graduated from the Eastern local school district high school in Beaver of 2006, was also a standout athlete and popular among his classmates, school officials told The Times.

He was a good student, just an all around great kid growing up that I can remember,” said Marsha Stevens, a secretary at the high school. “He played baseball, he was very good at baseball.”

Schools Supt. Neil Leist said word that Helton was killed in a friendly fire incident didn’t change  the fact that the 25-year-old died a hero.

“I think I can speak for everyone how proud we are of him serving his country and to me it doesn’t matter what bullet killed him,” Leist told The Times. “He got killed serving his country.”

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