LOS ANGELES (AP) — One of four Marines killed when their helicopter crashed on a training mission in Southern California was a standout in the corps and in life, just as caring as he was tough, friends and family recalled Thursday.
Although the Marines haven't released the names of those killed in Tuesday's crash, family and friends have identified Lance Cpl. Taylor Conrad as among the dead.
He and three other Marines were practicing desert landings when their CH-53E Super Stallion crashed in a remote area just outside El Centro, near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Tributes to Conrad, who became a father in October, were pouring in on social media, including from the mayor in his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and his high school football team.
"He was the gold standard," said Cpl. Brock Portier, a good friend and fellow Marine based in Camp Pendleton.
"He pushed everybody and he cared about everybody," he said. "I wouldn't be the Marine I am now if it wasn't for him."
Portier met Conrad in 2015, when they both joined the Marines. The two were bunkmates for three months at boot camp, where Portier said Conrad became a guide, the highest position for a recruit.
Conrad was known for his toughness but also for the way he knew and cared about each recruit, helping those who were struggling, Portier said.
"He was one of those guys, I could see him staying forever and becoming a sergeant major and changing people's lives more than he had just as a lance corporal," he said. "He was going to be something great."
Pam Scoggin, Conrad's great-aunt, said the young man had been going to school at Louisiana State University when he decided on a career change.
"He decided he didn't want to do anymore books, he wanted to go the Marines," the 68-year-old said from her home in Texas City, Texas. "He thought they were the toughest of all the military and that's what he wanted to be."
She said he loved his job.
"He loved serving his country," Scoggin said. "He just thrived on being a Marine."
She said Conrad was the baby of the family and that his mother and siblings were devastated by his death.
Among the tributes to Conrad online came from Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome.
"Our hearts are heavy this morning as we mourn the loss of Taylor Conrad," she wrote on Facebook.
His football coach at Central High School in Baton Rouge remembered Conrad for his athleticism and his big heart.
Not only was he a football player and a champion power lifter, but he also volunteered to work with special needs students, Sid Edwards, football coach and athletic director at Central High, told WAFB-TV.
Conrad had wanted to be a special education teacher but decided to serve his country first, Edwards said.
"His love for those who need the most love is something I'll never forget," he said.
The helicopter that crashed Tuesday was with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing out of Miramar air station in San Diego.
The CH-53E Super Stallion is the largest helicopter in the U.S. military and has been in service for more than 30 years. It is used for minesweeping and transport and can carry dozens of troops and tons of cargo.
Two CH-53Es collided off the coast of Oahu in Hawaii two years ago, killing 12 Marines.
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