North Knox grad killed

Sun-Commercial photo courtesy of the U.S. Army | North Knox graduate Clay Cullen, the son of Robert and Julie Cullen of Bicknell, was one of two soldiers killed over the weekend in a U.S. Army helicopter crash in California.

Clay Cullen remembered as 'kind young man' who 'put people first'

BICKNELL — First Lt. Clay Cullen, a North Knox graduate and Bicknell native, was one of two soldiers killed over the weekend in a U.S. Army helicopter crash.

Cullen and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kevin Burke, of California, died when their AH64 Apache helicopter crashed early Saturday morning during training operations at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, according to an Army press release from Fort Carson, Colorado.

The cause of the accident is currently under investigation.

Cullen, 25, is the son of Robert and Julie Cullen of Bicknell. He graduated in 2011 from North Knox Junior/Senior High School, where school officials lowered the American flag to half-staff on Monday in honor of Cullen and his family. 

"The faculty and staff are deeply saddened by the sudden loss of Clay. Many here at school (on Monday) were discussing their favorite memories of having Clay as a student in class or simply knowing him as a person," principal Matt Sandefer said. "Clay was an extraordinary young man that went on to do extraordinary things."

As a Warrior, Cullen was active in both academics and athletics. He was a member of several academic teams, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Knowledge Masters, the National Honor Society and student council.

Cullen also played golf and excelled on the school's soccer team; he was named the most valuable player in 2011 and won the Top Team Award from the Indiana Soccer Coaches Association in 2010, among other awards. 

Though Cullen was a very involved student, Sandefer noted that he was always willing to go that extra mile to help his classmates.

"Clay was a very giving and kind young man ... He always seemed to have a smile on his face wherever he went," Sandefer said. "Clay will always be loved by his North Knox family." 

Cullen was, by all accounts, a selfless leader and soldier — and North Knox superintendent Darrel Bobe said that selflessness stemmed from his family roots.

“Everybody in his family always seemed to put people first, and that's just how he was,” Bobe said. “I think that's why he went into the service — he was just selfless like that and put the cause before himself.

“We are very appreciative of his service. He gave back to our country and that was just the ultimate sacrifice,” Bobe said. “When something like this happens, it is just so very humbling that individuals give their lives so we can have freedom.”

After graduation, Cullen enrolled as a full-time student at Vincennes University for the 2011-12 academic year, VU officials confirmed.

Cullen then headed to Indiana University in 2013 and served in the National Guard while he was a student, said IU director of media relations Chuck Carney. He left as a commissioned officer on active duty upon his graduation in 2015. 

“We are deeply saddened at the death of Clayton Cullen, a 2015 graduate who served his country in the Army after earning his status as a commissioned officer in IU’s ROTC program," Carney said in a statement from the university. "We send our condolences to his family and friends in Indiana and beyond.”

Cullen joined the Army in April 2015 and according to records, his military occupational speciality was listed as aviation.

During his nearly three years in the service, Cullen had received several awards, including the Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and Army Service Ribbon, according to the Army.

He joined his current unit, the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, in September.

Over the course of the past several months, both he and Burke made an impression on Col. Scott Gallaway, their unit commander.

“These gentlemen exemplified all the attributes we expect from our very best leaders. They were selfless, mission focused, and committed to their teammates,” Gallaway said in a press release. “These two young leaders left an indelible mark on the entire Iron Eagle team. We will forever be better soldiers, and a more combat-ready aviation brigade, due to their leadership."

According to The Associated Press, Fort Irwin is a remote facility in the Mojave Desert midway between San Bernardino, California, and Las Vegas.

The Denver Post has reported that Cullen and Burke died in a training exercise where soldiers from Fort Carson's 1st Brigade Combat Team are preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan later this year.

Funeral arrangements for Cullen are pending.

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