POWAY, CA, USA U.S. Army SSG, HHC, 2D BATTALION, 35TH INFANTRY, 3 BCT, SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, HI MULTAKA, IRAQ 08/22/2007
Since he was a child, Staff Sergeant Jason L. Paton knew he wanted to make a career in the military. He joined the Civil Air Patrol as a youngster, signed up for the Army right out of high school and planned to re-enlist after his current tour in Iraq to become an Army Ranger training officer.
Paton, 25, was three weeks from coming home when he was killed Aug. 22 along with 13 other soldiers in a Black Hawk helicopter crash in Multaka, Iraq, north of Baghdad.
Paton, of Poway, was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, in Hawaii. He had completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan and another in Iraq. He was on his second deployment to Iraq.
A 2000 graduate of Poway High School, Paton and his fiancée, Nikki Palmer, were to marry in November. Palmer was a UC San Diego softball player, and Paton proposed to her at home plate after a game in March while he was home on leave. Family members and Palmer remembered Paton as a devoted soldier who always looked out for others.
“He cared the world about other people,” his father Robert said. “He’d go out of his way to help anybody — and that’s reflected both in his personal life and his military life.”
His family said Paton was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed surfing, water skiing and riding dirt bikes in the desert.
After his planned wedding, Paton and his fiancee, Nikki Palmer, were to move to Georgia, where he was to serve as a training officer for Army Rangers. Palmer was a UC San Diego softball player, and Paton proposed to her at home plate after a game in March while he was home on leave.
“He was an amazing man,” Palmer said. “He cared so much about everyone else.”
Recalling the day when she learned that his deployment had been extended, Palmer said, “I was really upset and I cried. He said, ‘I know it sucks but … this is what I do.’ He was a really good soldier. He took his job very seriously.”
His version of relaxing was never sitting still, according to family and friends, who said Paton loved surfing, water skiing and riding dirt bikes in the desert. He kept quiet, at least with his family, about his military exploits. When he was home, it was as if he had turned off a switch and never spoke about the military, his father said
Paton’s stepfather, Jim Valenzuela, recalled the time he was assigned as a substitute teacher in Paton’s eighth-grade class. Valenzuela said he was spared much of the misbehavior that is the common lot of substitutes because the students had such high regard for his stepson.
“He was always trying to make life a little bit easier for anybody else,” Valenzuela said.
Paton’s cousin Shane Coffelt, 34, of Seattle recalled a string of memorable family reunions and trips with Paton to the desert. Despite the physical distance between them and a nine-year age difference, Coffelt said, they were almost like brothers. Paton was “always smiling, larger than life,” Coffelt said. “He was never real connected with material things. Family and friends were always more important to him.”
Paton was buried Sept. 6 at Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery on San Diego’s Point Loma.