Kāne'ohe-based Marine dies in Afghanistan
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
An 18-year-old Kāne'ohe-based Marine who was in Afghanistan less than a week died while supporting combat operations in southern Helmand province, the Pentagon reported yesterday.
The Defense Department said Pfc. Jake W. Suter, of Stevenson Ranch, Calif., died Friday. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
Suter was remembered in his hometown as a kid with a passion for church, athletics and history.
His death is under investigation, the Pentagon said.
"It's never good to lose a fellow Marine — regardless of their age, although it is particularly poignant to have lost someone so young," said Maj. Alan Crouch, a spokesman for Marine Corps Base Hawai'i.
About 1,000 Hawai'i Marines and sailors with the 3rd Battalion left for Afghanistan in mid-May on the seven-month deployment.
The Marine's stepfather, Chris Unthank, told the Santa Clarita Valley Signal newspaper that Suter left Hawai'i on May 17, made several flight stops along the way, and was in Afghanistan on May 24.
A staff sergeant and gunnery sergeant came to Chris and Michelle Unthank's door early Saturday morning to notify them.
Chris Unthank said his wife "dropped to the floor crying and I immediately started trying to comfort her," the Signal reported. "Everything that you would expect: 'Why?' 'Too soon.' 'He just got there.' 'We just talked to him.' It's been a rough couple of days."
The couple spent part of Memorial Day at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware as their son's American-flag-draped casket arrived on a plane from Germany, the newspaper reported.
The Marine had done research on Afghanistan.
"He knew he was going into a war zone, but also felt like he was on a mission of peace — not to just go in there as military but also to help the Afghan people do what they needed to do," the Signal quoted Chris Unthank as saying.
According to Marine Corps Base Hawai'i, Suter enlisted in the Corps in June 2009 and attended infantry school that September. This was his first deployment.
Radio station KHTS said Suter was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that his bishop remembered him riding his bicycle four miles to attend services.
"He was excited to serve his country; he was very proud," Ray Carlson told KHTS.
The station said Suter played three years of high school football and was active in the Boy Scouts.
The 3rd Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Jeff Holt, said earlier this month that his Marines would be in and around Nawa in central Helmand province.
The three infantry battalions at Kāne'ohe Bay now rotate through deployments to Afghanistan. The 3rd Battalion replaced the 1st Battalion out of Hawai'i, which lost five Marines on a deployment to Afghanistan that began last November.