MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The names of the three Minnesota National Guard soldiers killed this week in a helicopter crash have been released.
The Minnesota National Guard identified the guardsmen Saturday as Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Rogers Jr., 28, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charles Nord, 30, and Sgt. Kort Plantenberg, 28.
They were assigned to Company C, 2-211th General Support Aviation Battalion based in St. Cloud. Their unit had just returned from a nine-month deployment in the Middle East, where they conducted medical evacuations in support of Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Inherent Resolve.
On Thursday, the three guardsmen were doing a routine maintenance flight out of the St. Cloud airport. Shortly after takeoff, the pilots initiated a mayday call and contact was lost with the aircraft. About two hours later, first responders found the downed helicopter on a farm near Kimball. All three on board were killed.
On Saturday, members of the Minnesota National Guard gathered at the same airport the guardsmen last flew out of on Thursday. At an afternoon press conference, some of the soldiers in their battalion shared memories, including Sgt. Nicholas Arrigoni, who was good friends with all three.
“Jimmy was the goofball of the group. If you were in a room it was usually him talking and making the jokes, but what I’ll say is when it was time get serious, he put his game face on immediately,” Arrigoni said.
Members of the Minnesota National Guard are leaning on each other as they work through their grief. “We’re a family,” Arrigoni said, “and we’ll get through it together as a family.”
First Sgt. Shawn Schmidt worked with all three of the fallen guardsmen.
“Moments that I struggle with and break down and cry is really when I think about all the potential that they had and really what superstars they all were,” Schmidt said. “We were all extremely close, and it’s going to be a very big loss to absorb.”
WCCO has learned that Nord was married and leaves behind his wife, Kaley, his 2-year-old daughter and another child that is on the way.
Plantenberg’s family released a statement Saturday, describing him as a loving son and brother as well as a dedicated neighbor.
“We take comfort in our faith, the love of family and friends, and the knowledge that Kort died doing what he loved best: serving his country and pursuing his life-long dream to be a Black Hawk helicopter pilot,” the statement said.
For now, the Minnesota National Guard has grounded all flights until the initial safety investigation is complete, which will take anywhere from one week to one month.
A U.S. Army safety investigation team from Fort Rucker, Alabama, is investigating the crash site. There’s no timeline of when information will be released to the public.
Gov. Tim Walz, a former Minnesota National Guard member, has ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff at state and federal buildings in Minnesota until Monday.
“On behalf of all Minnesotans, Gwen and I offer our deepest sympathies to the families of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charles Nord, Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Rogers, and Sgt. Kort Plantenberg,” Walz told the media. “They paid the ultimate price in their service to Minnesota and to the United States of America. Words will never ease the pain of this tragic loss and the state of Minnesota is forever in the debt of these warriors.”