Sunday, May 20, 2007

Aaron D. Gautier dies 'of wounds suffered when his mounted patrol came in contact with enemy forces using small arms fire and an IED'

HAMPTON - Army Pfc. Aaron Gautier knew what it felt like to get shot at, he told his father last weekend when he called home from Iraq.

"He said it came from a crowd of civilians," Dan Gautier said Friday. "He described the sound - a cracking through the air."

Dan told him to be careful. Aaron assured him that "he had his head on straight."

Gautier told his father h e wanted to make it home to his new wife.

The 19-year-old soldier was killed in Baghdad on Thursday, the Department of Defense confirmed Friday night.

He deployed in April with the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Dan Gautier said his son was on a combat patrol - searching for three missing soldiers - when a roadside bomb detonated near his armored vehicle. After the explosion, the troops were attacked with small-arms fire. Gautier was evacuated to a nearby military hospital, where he died.

Two other soldiers were killed and one was wounded Thursday just south of Baghdad, the Defense Department said. According to The Associated Press, 3,40 1 American soldiers have died in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

Dan Gautier was notified Thursday evening, first by a phone call while driving home from work. The caller ID said it was Lindsey Gautier, Aaron's wife.

"All I could make out was, 'Aaron's dead.' "

When Dan pulled up to his house, he climbed out of the car and dropped to his knees. He waited to tell the rest of the family until the Army officers came to officially notify him. The casualty notification officer and a military chaplain from Fort Eustis arrived minutes later.

"When you hear news like this, it's like you're in a twilight zone," Dan Gautier said. "Time has a way of reality settling in. We just hope he didn't suffer.

"I actually told him not too long ago that he could stop growing up now," he said. "He grew up so much this last year."

Aaron graduated from basic training a year ago, but his father said he was planning to get out of the Army after his enlistment ended.

He dropped out of Bethel High School and enrolled in a class to get a high school equivalency diploma, which he earned at 17. A few months before his 18th birthday, Aaron showed up at his father's office with an Army recruiter.

Aaron wanted his father to sign papers giving him permission to enlist.

Dan was hesitant at first, but Aaron was so intent on serving he told his father that he could either enlist immediately with his blessing or later when he was of legal age.

"I was and am so proud of him," Dan said, fingering a small plastic bracelet that reads "Army Strong."

"I've worn this bracelet ever since he left."

Aaron and Lindsey were married in January.

"She loved him," said Pat LeNorman, Aaron's grandmother. "They were together day and night until he left."

In March, Dan visited Aaron before he shipped out for Iraq.

"You know in the back of your mind... that it might be the last time you see him," Dan said. "You cherish those moments."

Aaron's body likely won't be returned to the United States until next week.

"I was really looking forward to the next phase of our relationship as adults together," his father said. "The hard raising time was over, and it was time to enjoy each other. He was taken too soon."

From the Virginia Pilot