A Maryland family is preparing to bury an exceptional young woman, student and soldier. Cpt. Sara Cullen, 27, was among five soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan last week.
Cullen died Monday during a training mission aboard a UH-60 Black Hawk near Kandahar. She was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.
Cullen grew up in Eldersburg, Md. and was a standout at Liberty High School and then at West Point, where she graduated in 2007. She studied law and was a member of the Judo team in college.
She had arrived in Afghanistan a few months ago. Cullen and four fellow soldiers took off on the training mission on March 11. A sudden storm and powerful winds are believed to be what brought their chopper down.
"Mom and Dad wasn't happy with the choice of being a pilot. You always want your children to be as safe as possible," says Bill Knutson, her father.
Though trained as a pilot, the soldier's family says they don't know who was at the controls when the Black Hawk crashed.
"Who was in the left seat and who was in the right seat, I don't know. I don't know, don't have the faintest idea," Knutson says.
Cullen's father says she shocked her family when she announced she might go to West Point. He believes the September 11 attacks likely solidified her resolve.
"She was in the first class of post-September 11 that entered into all the military," Knutson says.
According to the U.S. Military Academy alumni website west-point.org, Knutson married her husband, a former Black Hawk pilot, in November and was deployed in January. The website identifies her as Cpt. Sara M. (Knutson) Cullen. Her husband deployed with a private contracting company in February to Afghanistan.
"He quit so he could be with Sara, otherwise they would have been in different places," her father says.
As the family prepares for a funeral, they remember a woman with so much promise and so much potential.
"She was the life of whatever group of people she had there and loved her country very much so."
According to the Department of Defense, also killed were Staff Sgt. Steven P. Blass, 27, of Estherville, Iowa; Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Henderson, 27, of Franklin, La.; Staff Sgt. Marc A. Scialdo, 31, of Naples, Fla.; and Spc. Zachary L. Shannon, 21, of Dunedin, Fla.
Cullen is the first Marylander killed in Afghanistan this year, The Baltimore Sun reports.