Los Angeles Salutes Officer Killed In Afghanistan

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Sgt. Major Robert Cottle, a 27-year Marine veteran killed in Afghanistan in late March, was a high-ranking Los Angeles Police Department SWAT officer. Cottle was the first LAPD officer to be killed in the war, and his death struck a nerve for many. His flag-draped coffin was pulled through the streets of downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Tomorrow, Sergeant Major Robert James Cottle will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The 45-year-old veteran of two tours in Iraq was serving in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb took his life. Cottle was in the Marine Reserves. His regular job was with the Los Angeles Police Department. He's the first LAPD officer to be killed during military service in Afghanistan. Reporter Brian Watt of member station KPCC has this remembrance.

BRIAN WATT: Robert J. Cottle was born in the Los Angeles suburb of Whittier in 1965. He enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 18. Seven years later, he became an LAPD cop.

Chief CHARLIE BECK (Los Angeles Police Department): I've known RJ Cottle for 20 years. He was a basic level police officer working for me when I was a watch commander.

WATT: Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Cottle, known as RJ to his colleagues, went on to serve in the department's elite SWAT unit.

Chief BECK: I cannot say enough things in respect to him. He was a true leader, a person with great heart, and I will miss him every day.

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WATT: On Tuesday, the police blocked off streets in downtown Los Angeles. Two mules pulled a farm wagon that bore Cottle's flag-draped coffin away from police headquarters. Police Chief Beck walked behind the casket with Cottle's wife, Emily(ph), a naval officer herself. She carried their nine-month-old daughter.

Dozens of LAPD officers and U.S. Marines followed. Retired cop Todd Reingold(ph) was among them.

Mr. TODD REINGOLD (Retired Policeman): The guy was just a gentleman. He was like a throwback gentleman, somebody from the '40s or the '50s or something.

WATT: Reingold was one of Cottle's drill instructors when he started at the police academy 20 years ago. They later worked together on the SWAT unit. Reingold remembered Cottle as very serious when the moment called for it, but at other times, he said, the officer dropped humorous RJ-isms into his speech.

Mr. REINGOLD: He'd always say: Stay frosty, gents, when he'd leave you, or he'd always sneak away and try and eat a couple of Twinkies. That was his big thing, and he was only 148 pounds, but he would call himself 148 pounds of twisted steel.

WATT: As the procession arrived at the church, Leah Norman(ph) stood with a small crowd to watch.

Ms. LEAH NORMAN: There's not enough people standing here. There's not enough people here.

WATT: She didn't know RJ Cottle but wore a button that pictured her 18-year-old son, an Army private serving in Iraq.

Ms. NORMAN: You're looking at a hero. How many times do we ever get to see hero (unintelligible) close up like this? They're not on TV. They're not in the sports. These are the real people because they're on the front line.

WATT: Robert J. Cottle was killed on March 24, during a patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. At the memorial service, he was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. For NPR News, I'm Brian Watt in Los Angeles.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED will continue in just a moment.

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