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Two Fort Drum soldiers killed in Afghanistan

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FORT DRUM — The post and Department of Defense on Friday confirmed the deaths of two officers in Afghanistan earlier this week.

The Department of Defense notice said Capt. Aaron R. Blanchard, 32, of Selah, Wash., and 1st Lt. Robert J. Hess, 26, of Fairfax, Va., died Tuesday in Pul-e ’Alam, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered from enemy indirect fire.

Capt. Blanchard’s mother told the Yakima Herald-Republic that she was told they were killed by missile fire, and that her son had been in Afghanistan less than a week when he was killed.

The two served in the 2nd Aviation Battalion, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division.

Capt. Blanchard, an Apache helicopter pilot, leaves a wife and two young children in New York state and his parents and brothers in Washington.

According to a press release from the post, Capt. Blanchard joined the Marine Corps in January 2000, and deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from January to September 2003.

After separating from the Marine Corps and completing a ROTC program, Capt. Blanchard was commissioned into the Army in June 2009. He completed pilot training at Fort Rucker, Ala., and arrived at Fort Drum in September 2011. He deployed with his unit to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in April 2013.

Capt. Blanchard graduated from Selah High School in 1999.

His awards include the Purple Heart, the NATO Medal and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, along with several Army aviation and Marine commendations.

Lt. Hess was a Black Hawk helicopter pilot who joined the Army in 2010, and arrived at Fort Drum in November after completing flight training at Fort Rucker.

Among his previous honors were the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the NATO medal.

He is survived by his mother, father and brother.

Capt. Blanchard’s and Lt. Hess’s deaths in combat are the first for the division in 2013. The division’s last combat deaths occurred in July.

Col. David J. Francis, the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade’s commander, said in a note published on the brigade’s Facebook page that the two officers “displayed courage and strength each day to face the challenges and risks of military service in combat.”

“The loss of these two leaders is profound; but we stand together, resilient, and with the strong resolve to continue the mission and honor their lives,” Col. Francis said. “Let us follow their example of bravery and courage as we continue to move our formations into theater to support the people of Afghanistan.”

Col. Francis’s note can be found at http://on.fb.me/14WO8Ef.

In a press release issued Friday afternoon, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called for flags on state government buildings to be flown at half-staff on Tuesday to honor the two soldiers.

Times Staff Writer Reena Singh contributed to this report.

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