Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Army Pfc. Neil I. Turner

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Neil I. Turner, 21, of Tacoma, Wash.

Pfc Turner was assigned to 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas; died Jan. 11, 2012 in Logar province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident.

Pfc. Neil Turner’s first letter to his mother from Army basic training in the fall of 2010 reads like the diary of a young man thrilled to see the world on his own.

He marveled at Cascade Mountain peaks during his first-ever flight out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. He “smashed” into a plate of airport Chinese food when he landed in Atlanta because he knew it would be the last meal he could choose for himself.

And when he saw a homesick recruit crying, Turner did what others avoided and made friends with the lonely soldier.

“Ha ha! You would be proud of your little boy,” he wrote to his mother, Charlotte Cox-Turner of Tacoma.

The 21-year-old soldier’s life and career were cut short Jan. 11 when he was killed in an Army training accident at an American base in Afghanistan’s Logar Province.

Friends and family Monday celebrated Turner’s life at Champions Center church in Tacoma and then laid him to rest at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent. They remembered him for the spirit he showed in befriending the homesick soldier at boot camp.

“He was such a lover of people,” said Champions Center pastor Samuel Deuth, a youth minister who knew Turner for years.

Turner “would go out of his way to make people feel loved,” Deuth said. “You didn’t see him much without a smile.”

Turner graduated from Lincoln High School in 2008 and was well-known as a music lover and affectionate big brother in his Eastside Tacoma neighborhood. Friends held a vigil for him the night of Jan. 12 when they learned of his death; his high school hosted a memorial, too.

He is survived by his parents, Leland and Charlotte, and by his three younger brothers, Maxwell, 19, Jordan, 15, and Tucker, 10.

Turner’s family displayed photos Monday showing him growing up in Tacoma ixed with recent images of him on patrol in the snowy, mountainous landscapes of Afghanistan.

He reveals a playful smile with a gap in his front teeth from some of his earliest childhood photos to the latest ones.

He was serving with 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division out of Fort Bliss, Texas. A spokesman for Fort Bliss has said the Army is investigating the cause of Turner’s death and declined to release further information.

A friend from basic training joined the Turner family for this week’s services. Daniel Garcia of San Jose, Calif., said Turner helped other recruits bridge their differences and build friendships under the stress of new challenges and tough sergeants.

“It feels surreal,” said Garcia, 21. “We were with him not that long ago. Thanks to him, I met a lot of great people.

Army Pfc. Neil I. Turner was killed in a training accident on 01/11/12.

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