From the office of Gov. Dannel Malloy, 11 a.m.:
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today ordered U.S. and Connecticut flags to fly at half staff in honor of Connecticut resident Sergeant Ari Cullers, who was killed in action in Afghanistan on Sunday.
"It is with tremendous sadness that we mourn the loss of Sergeant Cullers, who gave his life serving our nation," Governor Malloy said. "On behalf of all Connecticut residents, I extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and loved ones as we honor his life and remember his service."
Sergeant Cullers, 28, of New London, served in the Army's Headquarters, Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) and was stationed out of Ft. Drum, NY. He was killed by a rocket propelled grenade while repairing a bulldozer in Kandahar province.
Flags will remain at half staff until burial, the details of which are forthcoming.
Ari Cullers "would give you the shirt off his back." He was "funny and silly." He was " a good kid." This is how those who knew the 28-year-old Waterford native described him Monday, one day after he was killed serving his country in Afghanistan.
Ari R. Cullers, a sergeant in the Army assigned to the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, died Sunday.
“Anyone who knew (Ari) will immediately say how funny and silly he was,” Cullers' cousin Britt Poletti-Huhn said. “He could put a smile on anyone’s face. But he was also the bravest person I knew.”
Poletti-Huhn, who described Cullers as more of a big brother than a cousin, said she couldn’t talk about him without crying, and answered questions about him through text message.
Patch went to Cullers’ mother's home in Waterford on Monday, and was met with grieving relatives. It was still too traumatic, and they weren’t ready to talk about it, the relatives said.
“He was the type of person who would give you the shirt off his back and not think twice about it,” said Craig Daignault, who said he was a close friend with Cullers in middle school and high school, via a Facebook message to Patch. “I feel greatly honored and privileged to have known him.”
Cullers graduated Waterford High School in 2001. In his four years at the school, Cullers was a “rascal, but a likeable rascal,” Principal Don Macrino said.
“He was a good kid,” Macrino said. “I don’t think that school was the favorite part of his life all the time, but he was really a likeable kid.”
Cullers “found his niche” when he entered the military shortly after graduating high school, Macrino said.
“He felt as though he was doing something really important and worthwhile,” Macrino said. “And he really dedicated himself to it."
Cullers was a member of the Army's 10th Mountain Division, based out of Fort Drum, New York. This tour into Afghanistan was at least his second tour of duty in the war zone, Macrino said.
“While it is very sad - very sad - he was doing something I think he felt was very, very important,” Macrino said.
Cullers is the third Waterford High School graduate to be killed in the militarysince the War on Terror began. In 2003, Marine Cpl. Kemaphoom “Ahn” Chanawongse died in Iraq, and in 2010, Staff Sgt. Edwin Rivera died in Afghanistan.
Also, Waterford native died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City.
“It has hit Waterford very hard,” Macrino said. “That’s a lot for a small town.”
Cullers is survived by his mother, Robin Cornele, and his brother, Jacob Cullers.
News of Cullers' death spread through Facebook Sunday and Monday, as friends and family members posted messages on their own Facebook walls and Cullers’ Facebook wall.
“The Army has lost another great soldier,” Michael Keenan, who is also in the military, wrote on Cullers’ Facebook wall. “I am shocked that I’ll never get the chance to see him again.”
“R.I.P. Ari Cullers,” Keyth Reynolds wrote on Cullers’ wall. “Lost but never forgotten, rest in peace my brother.”
Carrie Flanagan, who graduated a year after Cullers, brought the news to Waterford High School Monday morning when she saw all the posts. She works now as In-School Suspension Coordinator, and described Cullers as “one of the funniest kids I ever met.”
“It makes the War on Terror a reality when an individual you know dies,” Flanagan said. “And a good individual at that.”
Macrino said the school will somehow memorialize Cullers, the way it memorialized Rivera and Chanawongse.
“I think it is always important to include the kids in Waterford, even if they didn’t know Ari,” Macrino said. “He is part of the extended Waterford High School family, he’s an alumni, he’s a graduate, and I feel as though we will have to appropriately memorialize him, as we did with Ahn and we did with Edwin.”
The military has yet to confirm the death. Generally, it takes at least three days for a name to be released, according to a spokesman for the Department of Defense.