Navy SEAL's Death Shakes Small Town


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One of the Navy SEALs who died in that Afghanistan helicopter crash earlier this month is to be buried on Friday. Petty Officer Jason Workman was a native of Blanding, Utah. It's a town that's suffered several casualties since the war on terrorism began.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Tomorrow, at Arlington National Cemetery, several Navy SEALs will be buried with full military honors. They died in a helicopter crash earlier this month in Afghanistan. Among them is Petty Officer Jason Workman of Blanding, Utah. As Dan Bammes of member station KUER reports, Workman's death has shaken the small town in the state's southern Four Corners area.

DAN BAMMES: The procession from the mortuary on Blanding's Main Street to the Mormon Church a few blocks away was the only public part of a memorial service last weekend in Blanding for Petty Officer Jason Workman. Inside the church, other Navy SEALs, family and community leaders honored his life and service out of the spotlight. Workman's death in Afghanistan has hit the town hard.

MONTY LEE: It was, I think, as close as you could be to losing a son.

BAMMES: Football coach Monty Lee helped Workman win all state honors at San Juan High School. He recalled a game when a teammate had made a big mistake.

LEE: The kid was upset with himself, and I happened to walk by. And Jason had his arm around him, and he said - he just simply said, hey, the sun is going to come up tomorrow. Forget about it.

BAMMES: After high school, Workman served as a Mormon missionary in Brazil and earned a college degree in criminal justice. Friends say he joined the Navy and volunteered for his SEAL training in part because he was angry about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, while a statement from his family says he wanted to be part of a calling bigger than himself. His younger brother, Corey, is a Blanding police officer. And on visits back home, Jason offered to share some of his tactical training with local officers. During one of those sessions, he burst into the coach's office unexpectedly.

LEE: And without hesitation, he just stopped, and he walked over and gave me a great, big hug. And what kind of kid, you know, that has excelled and evolved into the person that he was would bother to stop and take time to acknowledge an old friend?

BAMMES: But Jason Workman had more on his mind. He was married and had a 21-month-old son. He told San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge he wanted to bring his family back to southern Utah.

He told me - he says, you know what? I'm not going to be in the military all my life. And he was - he in fact had asked me that if I was to win the election as sheriff, he'd like to come back and would like to get into law enforcement. And he just wanted to come back to small-town Blanding and raise his family here.

Blanding is one of many communities in rural America that has paid a high price since the war on terrorism began. This town of 3,300 lost a Marine in 2004 and an Army medic in 2007. Its Army National Guard unit has been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. As painful as the sacrifices have been, Mayor Toni Turk says love of country and service are ideals kids grow up with in his town.

Mayor TONI TURK: They are taught patriotism. They are well-grounded in terms of traditional American patriotic experiences. And this community loves America. They're not afraid to serve.

BAMMES: Petty Office Jason Workman served in the Navy for eight years. He died a week short of his 33rd birthday. For NPR News, I'm Dan Bammes in Salt Lake City.

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