Two Pa. Guard aviators killed in Afghanistan honored in painting
INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. --- Two Pennsylvania National Guard aviators, who were serving with a battalion based here when they were killed in April, have a special place in a painting at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation.
On Sunday, a painting honoring Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matthew Ruffner, 34, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jarett Yoder, 26, was blessed, along with their portraits, in a placement ceremony in the main lobby of the headquarters of the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade.
Maj. Bill Edwards, brigade executive officer, said the "Gun 23" project was conceived shortly after the two aviators died. The men flew many missions in Afghanistan, serving with distinction.
"They were both known as proficient and talented aviators," Edwards said. "They were professionals and friends."
The painting was unveiled last month in Johnstown, Cambria County, headquarters of their unit -- 1-104th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, Edwards said.
"This print hangs in a place of honor ... so that all soldiers, officers, family and friends can see the Gun 23 print as a constant reminder of the gallantry, patriotism and heroism of two of our finest aviators," Edwards said. "We are proud to have served with Matt and Jarett, and through this print we will continue to honor their service forever."
The painting, called "Gun 23," depicts an AH-64 Apache helicopter with two soldiers in the cockpit flying over mountains in Afghanistan. Chambersburg-area artist Larry Selman based the painting on terrain photographs of the area where Ruffner and Yoder were killed when their helicopter went down in Nangarhar Province near the Pakistan border on April 9, 2013.
Selman said it took him about two months, working 10 hours a day, to do the painting.
The casual observer, Selman said, may be drawn by the big image and ask who the men are. But, "this picture is not just about Matt and Jarett. This flight is also about their battalion," he said. "No one goes to battle alone."
Col. John Kovac, commander of the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, also spoke during the ceremony.
"We're thankful for this painting. It sits in a place of honor," Kovac said, thanking all those who were involved in the project.
Both Ruffner's and Yoder's parents said they were touched by the painting.
"To us, it means a lot," said Diane Yoder, Jarett's mother. "It shows what the boys loved to do. They died doing what they loved and serving their country. It's a beautiful picture. I'm glad that they'll be remembered."
"We appreciate Mr. Selman doing it, because it's a beautiful painting," said Diane Ruffner, Matthew's mother. "We're just very appreciative."
"I'm proud of it," said Charles Ruffner, Matthew's father. "It's a daily memorial. They won't forget my son or Jarett."
Ruffner and Yoder were serving with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's Co. B, 1-104th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, based at Fort Indiantown Gap. They were on a reconnaissance mission when their helicopter crashed. Ruffner was piloting the aircraft, and Yoder was copilot.
Born in Punxsutawney, Ruffner was a 1997 graduate of London High School in London, Ohio. He graduated in 2003 from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor's degree in criminology, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. He was employed as a full-time Apache instructor pilot for the Pennsylvania National Guard's Army Aviation Support Facility at Fort Indiantown Gap.
Born in Berks County, Yoder was a 2005 graduate of Oley Valley High School and attended Reading Community College. He joined the military in 2005, serving first in Co. C, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry as an infantryman. He was deployed in 2008 to Iraq with Co. C and the rest of the 56th Stryker Brigade.
He entered the aviation field in 2010 and served as an aviation life-support equipment officer and Apache pilot. He was the husband of Heather Garay-Yoder of Mohnton, Berks County.