|Jesse Pittman |
CDF Firefighter & U.S. Navy SEAL
Navy SEAL from Willits killed in Afghanistan crashA former firefighter from Willits was among the 30 American troops who died when their helicopter was shot down by insurgents in Afghanistan early Saturday, according to Cal Fire Battalion Chief Norm Brown, a spokesman for the young man's family.
The SEALs who died in the crash were not part of the team that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, but they belonged to the same unit, according to the Associated Press.
The Pentagon hadn't released the names of any of the military personnel aboard the helicopter, but friends and family confirmed some of the names in early reports.
Pittman graduated from Willits High School in 2002 and worked in 2003 and 2004 as a seasonal firefighter with Cal Fire before joining the Navy. His father, Terry Pittman, is a heavy equipment operator with Cal Fire.
Terry Pittman and his wife, Ida, were reportedly out of state Monday and Tuesday to claim their son's remains at a military ceremony.
"He could barely speak," Brown said of his Tuesday phone conversation with Terry Pittman, who he supervises.
Chris Wilkes, who co-owned an automotive repair shop in Willits, said Jesse did odd jobs at the shop during his high school years to learn the trade. He said Jesse, his older brother and his father shared an interest in diesel performance and hot rods.
"(Jesse) was fun to have around," Wilkes said, describing him as friendly, smart, "super respectful" and a hard worker.
Jesse continued to visit the automotive repair shop after graduating from high school while he worked for Cal Fire, according to Wilkes, and had told Wilkes he planned to leave firefighting to become a Navy SEAL.
Wilkes said he advised Jesse against it because he had a good career and "the odds are next to none" that he would have passed the specialized training.
"I was just goofing around with him; I told him he watched too much TV. And he went out and did it," Wilkes said. "We were extremely proud of him."
Wilkes described a kind of awe at realizing that all the time they had spent with Jesse "an elite person" had been among them.
"He was just a good man," Wilkes said. "He was amazing."
Cal Fire Capt. Ken Azevedo supervised Jesse during the two summers he spent as a seasonal firefighter at Cal Fire's Leggett station.
"He was an inspiration to the whole crew when it came to physical fitness, endurance and morale," Azevedo said. "He was a great person and a great firefighter, and he strived to get everybody up to his own level."
Jesse made it known he wanted to be a Navy SEAL during his second summer with Cal Fire, according to Azevedo, and literally went "the extra lap" to get himself physically ready, even training with a former SEAL during his off-hours.
"He boosted the morale of the entire crew," he said. "The guys were in the best physical shape that year because of him."
Azevedo remembers Jesse's sense of humor and his need for excitement, saying, "I think firefighting was not enough excitement for him.
"He's going to be missed by everybody. We were so proud of him when he got on as a SEAL, and this is devastating for the guys," Azevedo said.
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