Andrew Todd Arnold
Chief Warrant Officer, United States Marine Corps
contemporary press reports:
HOUMA -- A yellow ribbon girded the oak tree outside Tim and Shelia Kufel’s home during weeks of Middle East war to honor their Marine nephew who left Houma as a small boy many years ago.
A ribbon of black now graces the tree as well, along with a photo of the nephew, Chief Warrant Officer Andrew Todd Arnold, killed as the result of a weapons accident in Iraq on April 22.
"This is a young man that was a dedicated father and a dedicated husband," Shelia Kufel said Wednesday. "He was also very dedicated to his parents and aunts and uncles and cousins, a very loving young man, very quiet. But he was a very proud Marine."
Arnold, who would have turned 31 in November, was a member of the 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. He was one of three marines killed when a seized Iraqi rocket-propelled grenade launcher that they were firing "for familiarization" malfunctioned.
The incident occurred on a firing range near the city of Al Kut. Chief Warrant Officer Robert William Channell Jr., 36, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Lance Corporal Alan Dinh Lam, 19, of Snow Camp, North Carolina, also lost their lives.
Arnold spent most of his formative years in Spring, Texas, a Houston-area town of 36,000 where his father, Jim Arnold, Shelia Kufel’s brother, works as a private airplane pilot. His mother, Mary, is a homemaker who once worked in a Houston bank.
"They are very strong in their Catholic faith," Shelia Kufel said. "Of course they are devastated, but they are trying to be strong."
In Houma, word of Arnold’s death devastated Shelia Kufel who, like many other relatives of service members during the U.S. push into Iraq from Kuwait, stayed glued to her television set during the early phases of the conflict.
"I was constantly watching, hoping to get a glimpse of him, and even wrote him a letter that I don’t even know if he received," Shelia Kufel said.
The elite unit Arnold was assigned to -- called Task Force Tarawa -- played a key role in the costly battle of Nasiriyah. That his death occurred at a time when the threat of harm to U.S. service members after the taking of Baghdad appeared to have waned compounds the family’s pain.
"Day by day I cried, for two days straight until my eyes could barely open," Shelia Kufel said. "I had a country music channel on the television the other night, and they played some songs that made me break down again. I am going through the motions of everyday life, but I have my moments where it seems so unreal."
DIAPER RASH CREAM
A bond between aunt and nephew formed early, when Arnold lived in Houma with his family as a toddler. As an adult, he often visited while traveling to or from his parents’ home in Texas.
Shelia Kufel often babysat the boy she called Andy, along with his older brother and sister, James and Michele.
Warm memories now mingle with the harsh imaginings of the price paid in war. Kufel recalls that when caring for the children, Andy needed feeding first.
"By the time I got to him he would be sleeping in his high chair, he would just nod over," she said.
There was the time, too, when Andy and his older brother tried to appear as if they were shaving, covering their heads and faces not with shaving cream but diaper rash ointment.
"I put them in the tub, so upset and so tickled at the same time," she recalled.
A career Marine, the grown-up Andrew Arnold wed a South Carolina woman in 1994, Lisa Sellers. He met her at Camp Lejeune, where she still lives with their two children, 8-year-old Austin and 5-year-old Jessica.
Shelia Kufel talked with Lisa on Easter Sunday and was told then that Andy would be heading back to Kuwait with his unit soon, further out of harm’s way. Then, on Wednesday, came the phone call that made that prediction ring false.
"Austin was fearful when his daddy left, now he keeps asking when is his dad’s funeral," Kufel said. "Jessica is very much a daddy’s girl. She cried and wanted her daddy to stay home. She wanted to be able to kiss her daddy in the casket."
Relatives are not certain if that will be possible. The Marine’s body arrived this week at Dover Air Force Base; visitation is scheduled for Monday in Virginia with a hero’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery Tuesday.
NOT IN VAIN
In the Kufel household there were questions at the start of war about its advisability or necessity. Tim Kufel, an oilfield worker, supported the troops but was not certain at first if war was the right path.
"My husband one time asked me, "How would you feel if something happened to Andrew?’ "Shelia Kufel said. "We can answer that question now.
"We were there for the right reasons, and Andrew believed we were there for the right reasons," she said. "Even if we never find weapons of mass destruction, he had them in the past, and these people, to be free, and to know that Andrew himself was glad to be able to free those people from the oppression. He will not, he did not die in vain."
As word of Andrew Arnold’s death trickled to neighbors in the small, quiet subdivision where the Kufels built their home 19 years ago, there were visits and calls of condolence. Neighbors Charlene and George Kenneker -- who gifted the Kufels with the yellow ribbon that embodied wishes of a safe return -- also supplied the black one that tells the story’s unexpected end.
Charlene Kenneker bought the black ribbon at a store called the Christmas Place, where proprietor Danny LeBouef charged no fee.
"I just gave it to her," LeBouef. "I wish we could do more."
The ribbons and the Marine’s photo now bathe in spring sunlight and the sweet fragrance of Shelia Kufel’s gardenia bushes, alive with new white blooms.
"It will be hard to ever take it down." she
Chief Warrant Officer Andrew Todd Arnold of Spring, Texas, was identified Thursday afternoon as one of those killed.
Jim and Mary Arnold of Spring said they thought that as the war in Iraq appeared to be winding down, their 30-year-old son had been spared from harm. But the couple learned this week that he was among three Marines killed when an Iraqi weapon they were testing malfunctioned.
"They were so relieved the war was almost over, then three Marines showed up at their door," neighbor Charlotte Coin told the Houston Chronicle. Her children grew up with Andrew Arnold and his siblings on a cul-de-sac in the Candlelight Hills subdivision.
Coin said the Arnolds were notified Tuesday evening about the death on a firing range. She said Mary Arnold called her soon afterward.
Coin and another neighbor, Merilyn Jerome, have known the family for more than 20 years. They said the couple had flown to North Carolina on Wednesday to comfort their son's wife, Lisa, and their two children, Austin, 8, and Jessica, 5.
Arnold, a chief warrant officer, was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
"He had just called his wife on Easter morning and he told her that he had two more days in Iraq then on to Kuwait to work on howitzers," Coin said, adding that Arnold's tour was expected to last a little more than a month.
She said Arnold joined the Marines right after he graduated from Klein Oak High School in 1990. Arnold's father and grandfather had also served in the Marines, Coin said.
"He did what he thought was right," Coin said about Arnold's enlistment. "We'll keep him in our hearts forever."
Arnold is survived by his wife, Lisa, a 9-year-old son, Austin, and a 5-year-old daughter, Jessica.
"(Arnold) had called Easter morning and talked to Lisa and the children," Cynthia Martinez, Lisa Arnold's best friend, told The Daily News of Jacksonville. "This was the first time they had spoken since he left. He thought he'd be coming home in a month to three months.
"We're all just in shock because the war's supposed to be over,"
Family members of the other victims identified Lance Corporal Alan D. Lam, 19, of Snow Camp, North Carolina, and Robert Channell, 36, a chief warrant officer from Tuscaloosa, Alabama on Wednesday.
Seven soldiers were injured in the blast Tuesday evening in a remote area near the southern Iraqi city of Kut, officials said.
The Marines with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force were firing the RPG -- one of the more common weapons used by paramilitary, Fedayeen and other groups that have threatened U.S. and British forces -- to familiarize themselves with it.
The launcher malfunctioned, Central Command said. The accident is under investigation.
Lam was a member of the 8th Communications unit based at Camp Lejeune, said Capt. George Palaima from the Greensboro-based Marine Corps Reserve unit. Palaima was one of the military representatives who informed Lam's parents of his death.
Chief Warrant Officer David Dennis told The Associated Press on Thursday he understood that an adjacent unit -- not Lam's unit -- was firing the RPG when the launcher malfunctioned.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete, and the body remained overseas, he said.
Lam graduated from Southern Alamance High School in 2001, and graduated from basic training at Parris Island, S.C., in early 2002.
Southern Alamance Principal Kent Byrd remembered Lam as a talented artist who worked on the school newspaper staff.
"We are just so deeply saddened at the loss and just grieve for the family," Byrd said. "If you wanted to choose the kind of kid you'd like to have on your high school campus, Alan would be an example of that."
Channell, part of a transportation unit, joined the Marines in 1986 at age 19.
"We really don't know what happened," Mark Sutton, Channell's stepfather, told The Tuscaloosa News. "They don't really tell you much."
Before these deaths, 128 U.S. troops had been killed in the war, the Pentagon said.
ARNOLD, ANDREW TODD
Posted: 3 May 2003 Updated: 8 May 2004 Updated: 11 February 2006 Updated: 24 March 2007 Updated: 13 May 2008
Photo By Michael Robert Patterson, May 2008
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 24 April 2004