SALT LAKE CITY — The remains of a Green Beret killed in Afghanistan last week will return to his southern Utah hometown on what would have been his 28th birthday.
Ahead of the Thursday homecoming, two services were scheduled to honor Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Aaron Butler, who grew up in Monticello. His funeral will be Saturday in the small town, and a vigil is planned for Tuesday night in Cedar Hills, where neighbors say he lived most recently before deployment.
Butler's family members in a Monday statement said they had "heartfelt appreciation for the outpouring of love and support at this difficult time."
Butler died in combat Aug. 16 in eastern Afghanistan, authorities said, when he was clearing a booby-trapped building. He was in the Utah National Guard 19th Special Forces and was part of a mission against the Islamic State in Nangarhar Province.
Following President Donald Trump's assurance Monday that the war in Afghanistan would be a victory for American troops in the end, Butler's parents said in a statement they believed their son would support possible changes designed to make the U.S. strategy more efficient, "even if it required additional sacrifice."
“Our loss is painful and agonizing, but it will be even worse for the nation if we don’t stand up and take steps to stop the spread of terrorism," Randy and Laura Butler said, in part. "Aaron felt this way and he sealed this belief with his life. We support our son and the cause for which he died."
Eleven other Utah National Guard members in Butler's unit were wounded, and several had "pretty bad shrapnel wounds," Maj. Gen. Jefferson Burton said Monday.
"The good news is, they're all going to survive," Burton said, though they were mourning the loss of Butler. Three who were in critical condition last week have improved to serious but stable condition, Burton said. The group will remain in Afghanistan, where doctors will monitor them for concussions.
Of the 11, eight were from Utah and three from other states, though they all served in the Utah contingent.
In Butler's Utah County neighborhood over the weekend, American flags lined homes and streets in remembrance the former Monticello High wrestling champion who had a fiancé at home.
On Friday, Butler's remains arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where seven soldiers carried a case off of a military plane in the dark as officers saluted.
Butler's remains are expected arrive at the Monticello Airport on Thursday and then travel via motorcade to the San Juan Mortuary in Blanding.
Details on events honoring Butler this week:
Vigil: 8 p.m. Tuesday at Heritage Park, 4425 W. Cedar Hills Drive in Cedar Hills.
Funeral service: Noon on Saturday at the Monticello LDS Stake Center in Monticello. Prior to the service, a viewing is scheduled from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Burial to follow at Monticello City Cemetery.