Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Area soldier killed

by RANDY WELLS rwells@indianagazette.net on April 11, 2013 11:02 AM

One of two Pennsylvania National Guard pilots who died Tuesday in a helicopter crash during a reconnaissance mission in eastern Afghanistan had ties to Indiana County.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matthew Ruffner, 34, of Harrisburg, an instructor, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jarett Yoder, 27, of Mohnton, were piloting an AH-64 Apache helicopter when the aircraft crashed in Nangarhar Province. The aviators were serving with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s Company B, 1-104th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, based at Fort Indiantown Gap.

Ruffner was the son of Charles and Diane Ruffner, of the Glen Campbell area.

He was born in Punxsutawney and moved with his family to Ohio where he graduated from London High School, in London, in 1997. Ruffner graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in criminology.

He was single, and had deployed to Afghanistan in December.

Ruffner most recently was employed as a full-time Apache instructor pilot for the Pennsylvania National Guard’s Army Aviation Support Facility at Fort Indiantown Gap.

He joined the military in 1997, serving initially as a mechanic in the Army Reserve’s 705th Transportation Company in Dayton, Ohio, before transferring to the Army National Guard’s 110th Infantry in Indiana.

Ruffner completed warrant officer training and transferred to the aviation career field in 2005, serving as an aviation life support equipment officer, tactical operations officer and instructor pilot.

His awards and decorations include the Army Achievement Medal, three Army Reserve Component Achievement Medals and the Parachutist Badge.

Ruffner’s aunt, Sonya Bash, of Glen Campbell, said today that Ruffner enjoyed flying and had told relatives he might pursue a career in flying emergency medical helicopters when he separated from the military.

Staff Sgt. Matt Jones, a Guard spokesman, said Ruffner and Yoder were alone in the Apache helicopter when it crashed. The cause has not been determined. U.S. military sources in Afghanistan said initial reporting indicated there had not been enemy activity in the area of the crash at the time.

A local official described the crash site as a farm field, and a teacher who lives in a nearby village said he heard a loud explosion and then saw the burning Apache as it plunged to the ground.

Yoder was a 2005 graduate of Oley Valley High School in Oley and attended Reading Community College.

He joined the military in 2005. He first served in Company C, 1st Battalion 111th Infantry as an infantryman. He was deployed in 2008 to Iraq with Company C and the rest of the 56th Stryker Brigade. He entered the aviation career field in 2010 and served as an aviation life support equipment officer and Apache pilot. His awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal, Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge and Driver and Mechanic Badge.

“The Pennsylvania Army National Guard has lost two of its own,” said Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, adjutant general of Pennsylvania. “Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with the Ruffner and Yoder families. 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.”

Some 1,500 Pennsylvania guardsmen are deployed in Kuwait and about 500 in Afghanistan, mostly with various aviation units. Thirty-nine have died in action in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, but Yoder and Ruffner are the first pilots.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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