SPOKANE, Wash. - Justin Clouse, the soldier who was killed in action in Afghanistan last week, has finally returned home to the Inland Northwest.
Dozens of Fairchild airmen in dress uniforms snapped salutes as he arrived at Spokane International Airport Friday morning while members of the Patriot Guard stood ready to escort Clouse and his family from the airport to Riplinger's Funeral Home in North Spokane, where he will remain until his service Saturday morning.
Clouse, 22, a native of Sprague, was killed in a friendly fire incident along with four other soldiers during an engagement with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"It's been very difficult for everybody," Lincoln County Sheriff Wade Magers said. "Sprague and Harrington are small communities and it's affected the whole county."
Hundreds of people – Fairchild airmen, Patriot Guard riders, Spokane residents, friends and family members – looked on and paid their respects as the plane carrying Clouse touched down.
"We're here to support the family and make sure they know people they don't even know care," Patriot Guard member Larry Griffith said.
The Patriot Guard was invited by Clouse's family to participate in the procession from the airport to the funeral home.
Though the members of the Patriot Guard and Clouse served decades apart they felt a bond to the young soldier and a need to show their support which some of them didn't receive themselves.
"A lot of them are Vietnam vets and didn't get this kind of welcoming. We are here to make sure that Justin gets what he earned," Griffith said.
Clouse was a corporal serving with Dagger Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at the time of his death. During a June 13 memorial service at FOB Apache in Afghanistan his fellow soldiers gathered to pay tribute to him, remembering Clouse 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, Lt. Col. Richard Garey. 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.
Back in Spokane Friday morning, people gathered at the airport to welcome Justin Clouse home from the war and to show their support for the family. While Justin's war has ended, his family's struggle to come to terms with his loss has only just begun.
"Hopefully this big event helps the family know that everybody appreciates them and is very much fond of their son," Sheriff Magers said.
A service for Clouse will be held Saturday at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane at 9 a.m.
CNN and Staff Sgt. John Etheridge, 128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, ISAF Regional Command South contributed to this report