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FOB Apache says goodbye to fallen heroes

FOB APACHE, Afghanistan - Two soldiers didn't answer the roll call today. Both of their names were called out three times by the first sergeant, but still there was no answer. After a brief pause, at midday, the sound of Taps filled the air, preparing two heroes for their final rest.

Cpl. Justin Clouse of Spokane, Wash., and Pfc. Aaron Toppen of Hazel Crest, Ill., both of Dagger Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, were remembered in a ceremony at the chapel on Forward Operating Base Apache, Zabul province, Afghanistan, June 13, 2014.

A standing room only crowd of Soldiers came to pay their last respects to their comrades who died in combat only a few days before.

Toppen was remembered as a hard worker who was quiet, kind and respectful. He joined the Army in July 2013 and had wanted to be a Soldier since he was a child. He enjoyed fishing with his father who passed away shortly before Toppen's deployment to Afghanistan.

"He was a quiet professional who always accomplished his tasks without fanfare and always exceeded the standards in everything he did," said his battalion commander, Lt. Col. Richard Garey.

He was remembered by his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Abraham Dorrough as being good-natured and mature for his 19 years.
"He was near and dear to everyone," said Dorrough.

He recounted how Toppen had walked around the tent with bunny ears wishing everyone a happy Easter last April, and how they talk about Toppen as being in a better place next to his father.

"I want you to know that you did an amazing job that very night," Dorrough said as a last goodbye. "You will be sincerely missed and loved," he said.

Clouse was remembered by his fellow Soldiers as a kind, caring, competitive and committed leader.

"He was one of the finest team leaders I have ever seen and he made everyone around him better," said Capt. Jacob Miraldi, Dagger Company commander.

His battalion commander recounted how Clouse had represented the unit in a post-wide boxing tournament at Fort Carson, Colorado. After winning his first two bouts he found himself in the championship fight.

As he went into the ring he turned to Garey and said, "Sir, I won't let you or the battalion down," said Garey.

Although the bout was called because Clouse broke his nose, he never gave up until the fight was stopped by the officials, exemplifying his competitive nature and never-give-up attitude. Another speaker also mentioned his competitiveness and professionalism.

"We were always competing to see who could do the best in everything," said Spc. Wesley Flemming, a fellow team leader with Dagger Company. "He was very smart and always took care of his Soldiers," he recounted.

Flemming also said during his remarks that Clouse was always joking around and could put a smile on anyone's face.

"Clouse, I love you brother," said Flemming as he finished his discourse. "Until I see you again, rest in peace."

As the ceremony came to an end, the Soldiers approached the memorial altar in small groups of two to four to pay their last respects. Displayed on the altar were two pairs of boots, one for each of the deceased, with two rifles pointing downward behind the boots and the combat helmets of Toppen and Clouse capping the rifles.

Paying respect for their brothers, each group of Soldiers that approached rendered a salute to the altar and kneeled before photographs of the deceased and said final prayers and goodbyes.
Some left tokens of remembrance and soldierly love behind. In front of the photos were unit coins, unit patches, nametapes and other mementos

The ceremony went on until every Soldier was able to approach the altar and the once-full chapel was empty, leaving the spirits of the two brave heroes to rest.

Story by Staff Sgt. John Etheridge, 128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment,
ISAF Regional Command South