Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Army Staff Sgt. Jason L. Paton

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Jason L. Paton, 25, of Poway, Calif.

SSgt. Paton was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; died Aug. 22, 2007 in Multaka, Iraq, of injuries sustained when his helicopter crashed. Also killed were Capt. Corry P. Tyler, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Paul J. Flynn, Sgt. Matthew L. Tallman, Rickey L. Bell, Capt. Derek A. Dobogai, Sgt. Garrett I. McLead, Cpl. Jeremy P. Bouffard, Cpl. Phillip J. Brodnick, Cpl. Joshua S. Harmon, Cpl. Nathan C. Hubbard, Spc. Michael A. Hook, Spc. Jessy G. Pollard and Spc. Tyler R. Seideman.

Soldier was devoted to family, his men
By Rick Rogers

Staff Sgt. Jason Paton never let the war interfere with his dreams. Despite tours in Iraq and Afghanistan – and the prospect of more to come – he planned to marry in November.

There also was that old Mustang to rebuild and plenty of waves at Black's Beach to catch.

Maybe the only thing stronger than Paton's love of life and family was the duty he felt toward the men in his Army unit. It was with his men that the charismatic soldier from Poway died Wednesday in a helicopter crash in Iraq.

Paton, 25, was a member of the Army's 25th Infantry Division based in Hawaii. He was traveling with 13 other soldiers aboard a Black Hawk helicopter when it crashed west of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Shortly after liftoff, the pilot reported handling problems. Before he could set the helicopter down, the aircraft went into a wild spin and crashed, according to a CBS news report. There were no survivors.

Families of the fallen were told that a broken tail rotor caused the accident, although officially the crash remains under investigation.

Paton is the 3,717th service member, and the 43rd from San Diego County, to die in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003.

The 14 killed were a four-man helicopter crew from Fort Lewis, Wash., and 10 passengers from the 25th Infantry Division.

Paton's mother, Kim Bilbrey of Poway, spoke briefly to her son on Monday and, as usual, he was talking about what he would do when he got home.

“He said he was very excited about getting married,” Bilbrey said.

She had made reservations for him and his fiancee, Nikki Palmer of Temecula, for a three-night stay at the Crystal Pier hotel in Pacific Beach. Palmer was a catcher last season on the University of California San Diego softball team. Palmer and Paton were to be married Nov. 18.

“He had a 1968 Mustang, and he told me he wanted to speak to the mechanic about it,” Bilbrey said.

Her only son was to have been back in Hawaii last month, but that was delayed when President Bush extended U.S. deployments as part of the troop surge that began early this year.

Paton's decision to enlist in the Army after graduating from Poway High School in 2000 surprised his mother, but his decision to stick with his men did not.

“He was surfing one day at Black's and he just decided to join the Army,” Bilbrey said.

Once in the Army, Paton thrived, graduating from Airborne School and Ranger training and making rank quickly.

“You could see in Jason's personality a sense of duty to country,” said Wayne Branstetter, Paton's high school wrestling coach.

“He was a very hard worker. He loved training,” Branstetter said. “He just fit in and had a great personality. He had a serving attitude. It was not all about him.

“It just hits you in the gut when something like this happens.”

Despite the cachet of elite schools and the combat tours, Paton never changed when he can home to Poway.

“Everyone wanted to be around him. He was just so much fun. His laughter was contagious,” said Liz Reese, 25, who had known Paton since they were both 11.

Arrangements are being made to bury Paton at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma.

“I want people to remember his strength, his devotion. How everyone was drawn to him,” Bilbrey said. “He was a happy person. He would do anything for people. He was a tough kid who had done a lot.”

Army Staff Sgt. Jason L. Paton was killed in action on 8/22/07.

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