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Maj. Gen. John Toolan, left, and Maj. Gen. Glenn Walters bow their heads in prayer at a memorial ceremony for Capt. Ryan Iannelli at the chapel on Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, Oct. 3. Iannelli, an AH-1W Super Cobra pilot with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, and a native of East Greenwich Township, N.J., died Sept. 28 supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Toolan is the commanding general of the southwestern regional command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and Walters is the commanding general of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward).

Photo by Cpl. Brian Adam Jones

Marines bid farewell to fallen brother in Afghanistan

3 Oct 2011 | Cpl. Brian Adam Jones

In the wartime chapel here where Capt. Ryan Iannelli once worshipped, his fellow Marines gathered to remember him in a ceremony, Oct. 3.

Iannelli, an AH-1W Super Cobra pilot assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), died Sept. 28, supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of captain.

The Marines who served alongside Iannelli described him as a deeply spiritual man who strove to make a difference.

“Whether you knew him for five minutes or five years, he impacted you in a positive way,” said Capt. Scott Neidecker, a Super Cobra pilot with the squadron. “He was the kind of guy who would do anything for anyone.”

Neidecker said he had known Iannelli since they met at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., for flight school.

“We worked in [operations], writing the schedule together,” Neidecker said. “After I checked in with the squadron, he came out here too and we still wrote the schedule together. We were really good friends. He was my best friend here.”

At the ceremony, Neidecker read Scripture from Matthew: 34-40:

 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Days before Iannelli’s death, Col. Ben Hancock, the assistant wing commander for 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), traveled to Camp Dwyer to fly with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, there he met the young captain.

Hancock flew a mission that Iannelli had been slated to go on.

“Here comes this old colonel, taking his flight time,” Hancock said. “A lot of guys would have been upset, but he was very gracious, very sharp, very motivated and very helpful.”

Hancock said Iannelli loaned him his helmet, his flight vest, his supply of cold water and even his rifle.

“It was quite tragic to hear about his loss, but it was even more personally tragic to know, ‘That’s the kid who hosted me down there,’” Hancock said. “By all accounts, he was extremely well respected and liked – an extremely unique individual who was not just a great aviator, but a great person as well. I got the impression Ryan Iannelli was the kind of guy everyone wanted to hang out with.”

Iannelli, 27, was a native of East Greenwich Township, N.J.

He graduated from Kingsway High School in 2002, where he excelled as an athlete.

After high school, he attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., playing baseball for the university for four years.

His awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

“We all know that this is a part of our profession, we all understand there’s an element of potential risk and sacrifice,” said Hancock. “We’re all hopeful that we will grow old and be alive and well, but we all know there are a lot of very great young Marines and exceptional people who die in the line of duty.”

Sgt. Maj. William E. Sweeney, the sergeant major for Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, said the Marines of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269 will remember Iannelli’s character, and that will help them as they complete their mission of providing close-air support for coalition forces eradicating terror and violence in southwestern Afghanistan.

“It hurts to lose a Marine,” Hancock said. “But knowing the risk, we have to move on; we have to pick it back up. The infantry expects and deserves our support.”

Sweeney said, “I think ultimately, this will bring us tighter and closer together.”

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