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Gazette Premium Content AFA graduate killed in Iraq

CARLYN RAY MITCHELL Updated: September 9, 2009 at 12:00 am

An airman who graduated at the top of his 2007 Air Force Academy class was killed Tuesday in Iraq, the Department of Defense announced Wednesday.

First Lt. Joseph D. Helton, 24, of Monroe, Ga., was killed near Baghdad by an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 6th Security Forces Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.

A 2003 graduate of Monroe Area Comprehensive High School, Helton was a star student and soccer player who had more than $1 million in scholarship offers before settling on the academy, according to an e-mail from retired Col. Larry Hoff posted on a Georgia outdoor news forum. Hoff could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Helton graduated from the academy in the top 10 percent of his class and received honors in leadership, academics and athletics, Hoff said in the e-mail. After graduation, Helton chose to join Air Force Security Forces.

He was sent to train Iraqi police in southern Baghdad and had recently extended his tour, Hoff said.

“I heard from Joseph this past week on how he was enjoying his new assignment,” Hoff wrote in the e-mail.

Helton is the 11th Air Force Academy graduate to die in Iraq.

“Joseph’s ultimate sacrifice is a tremendous loss to the United States Air Force Academy family. He touched the lives of many people — cadets, Airmen, friends and family — and he will have a lasting effect on them all,” the academy’s superintendent, Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, said in a statement.

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