Thursday, May 31, 2007

Keith N. Heidtman dies 'wounds suffered when his OH-58D Kiowa helicopter crashed after receiving heavy enemy fire during combat operations'

Norwich — Enemy fire caused a helicopter crash Monday that killed a Norwich man and his co-pilot in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, a senior U.S. military official said Wednesday.

Brig. Gen. Perry Wiggins, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military believes small-arms fire brought down a helicopter piloted by Army 1st Lt. Keith Neal Heidtman of Norwich and Chief Warrant Officer Theodore U. Church of Ohio, who died from wounds suffered in the crash. They were assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, based at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

The day after learning Heidtman had been killed in Iraq was a somber one for the 24-year-old's family and friends.

“Well, quite frankly, we are struggling,” said Chris Heidtman, the soldier's uncle, who is serving as the family's spokesman. “The second day is a littler harder. The reality is starting to set in.”

Heidtman said the family has been assigned a military liaison who is assisting with making arrangements to bring Keith Heidtman's body home.

“The fact that everyone is distraught is a testament to what kind of guy Keith was,” Chris Heidtman said. “He was such a wonderful man.”

Heidtman was one of 10 U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq on Monday, eight from Task Force Lightning, the military reported. As of late Wednesday, there were at least 119 U.S. deaths in Iraq thus far in May, with one day left in the month, according to the Associated Press.

Heidtman was deployed in November, sent to Hawaii, then to Kuwait. He arrived in Iraq in December for his first tour of duty. He was scheduled to come home for leave in July.

He was a 2001 graduate of Norwich Free Academy and a 2005 graduate of the University of Connecticut. The son of Kerry Heidtman and Maureen Robidoux, he spent his high school years living with his mother and stepfather, Arthur Robidoux, at the family's home at 133 Scotland Road.

Keith Heidtman had trained as a helicopter pilot at the U.S. Army Aviation Warfighting Center at Fort Rucker, Ala. He had graduated from the UConn ROTC program as a “distinguished military graduate,” his family said.

Mark Cohan, who became head of school after Heidtman graduated from NFA, said the school is reeling over the news of his death. Another former NFA student, Army Spc. Jacob Martir, was killed in Iraq in August 2004.

“It feels terrible to have such a young person die,” said Cohan. “People here are still dealing with it now.”

Cohan said the school plans to memorialize Heidtman but does not have a specific plan in place. “We definitely want to do something,” he said. “It's going to take some time to put something together.”

John Iovino, baseball coach and director of student affairs, said the mood on campus is somber, especially for those on the faculty who knew Heidtman.

“It certainly is a great loss,” said Iovino. “Keith was a terrific young man. I knew him as a little kid. I looked forward for him to coming to the high school. It's a tremendous sense of loss for all of us.”

Hugh Campbell, principal of Tirrell House at NFA, said he knew Heidtman since Heidtman was about 8 or 9 years old, when Tirrell and Iovino ran a summer baseball camp in Norwich. He said he learned of Heidtman's death from Iovino on Tuesday, adding he knew something was wrong because Iovino had a very somber expression.

“I was in the cafeteria, and I had to excuse myself,” Campbell said. “It was a shock yesterday.”

Campbell said Heidtman showed great athletic talent even at an early age.

“He was a standout all through Little League,” Campbell said.

Campbell coached baseball at NFA for 27 years, until 2005. He said Heidtman was a three-year varsity player who played first base and outfield.

Heidtman also played for three years on the basketball team. He made All Conference in his third year.

“He was a quiet leader,” Campbell said. “He never brought attention to himself. He came to practice and worked hard.”

Campbell said he wrote a college recommendation letter for Heidtman on Oct. 23, 2000. In that letter, Campbell wrote that Heidtman represents everything that is right with young people today.

“He brings the whole package to the table every day,” Campbell said he wrote. “He is a gentleman, a scholar and a fine athlete. His work ethic is second to none.”

Campbell said Heidtman would leave a legacy at NFA.

“I hope he is never forgotten,” he said.

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