St. Paul native dies in helicopter crash in Afghanistan
Pilot who grew up in Frogtown was on second tour of duty
BY DAVID HAWLEY
A combat-hardened Army helicopter pilot who grew up in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood was among the 10 U.S. troops killed Friday in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, his family and the military said Wednesday.
Chief Warrant Officer Eric W. Totten, who would have celebrated his 35th birthday Wednesday, was a veteran of military actions in Bosnia and Iraq and was on his second tour in Afghanistan.
He died with nine others when a CH-47 helicopter crashed while scouring remote Afghan mountains along the Pakistan border for al-Qaida and Taliban militants as part a major action involving U.S. and Afghan troops.
The military said the crash was not caused by hostile fire, though Taliban forces claimed to have shot down the helicopter. It was the deadliest single incident for U.S. forces in Afghanistan in a year and is still being investigated.
A Defense Department announcement did not identify Totten as the pilot of the helicopter. But his older brother, Noel Totten of Bloomington said Totten was rated to fly helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft and was primarily serving as a pilot.
"I never really worried about him because he was so intelligent and competent and because he wasn't cocky," Noel Totten said. "I worried about the younger ones, the 19- and 20-year-olds, but not Eric."
The son of a prominent Twin Cities building contractor, Totten grew up on Lafond Avenue in the Frogtown neighborhood and attended Ramsey Junior High School before his family moved to Golden Valley.
Noel Totten said a major change in his brother's life occurred when a close childhood friend died of drug-related causes.
"He said, 'I don't want to go that way — I want to make something of myself,' " Noel Totten recalled. "And he did. We're very proud of him."
Eric Totten joined the Army shortly after graduating from high school and took Ranger training before getting into aviation. A bachelor, he moved at the whim of Army. He had recently been living in Fort Campbell, Ky., the home of the 101st Airborne Division.
In Afghanistan, he was with the 3rd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division. The division is based in Fort Drum, N.Y.
One of six children, Totten was fond of dropping in on his siblings and their families — he had 21 nieces and nephews — at their homes in various parts of the country.
A cousin, Avalon Totten-Denton, posted a note on a Web site that was created after the family learned of the aviator's death. The Web site is filled with slideshows of family gatherings, with many pictures of Eric Totten at birthday parties and at family gatherings near a lake.
"I wish there was a way to set off fireworks on this site because encounters with Eric were always such a blast," Totten-Denton wrote. "Until we meet again, enjoy the ride, my friend. Bless you for your sacrifice and know you are forever loved."
Noel Totten said his brother loved the military and living an active, athletic life, though he was also an accomplished musician who played piano and a number of other instruments.
"They were always training and promoting him," Totten said of his brother's Army career. "He was always excited about his next new challenge. They gave him a lot of pats on the back."
Totten's funeral will be Saturday in Augusta, Kan., where the family has a burial plot. He will be laid to rest near his parents.
His survivors, in addition to Noel, his eldest brother, include a sister, Thais Hinz, of Duluth. Other siblings are a sister, Judy Jackson of Oklahoma City, and brothers Jim of Tallahassee, Fla., and Ottis of New Orleans.
Totten is the third Minnesota soldier to die in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001. Three Wisconsin soldiers also have been killed there.
At least 234 U.S. military personnel have died in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan and Uzbekistan since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban regime, according to the Defense Department.
More than 2,400 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the war started there in March 2003. The total includes 30 Minnesota military deaths and 52 Wisconsin military deaths.
The Totten family's memorial site is online at at www.eric-totten.memory-of.com.