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Ducey: Flags at half-staff to honor Tucson soldier killed in Yemen crash

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has ordered that flags be flown at half-staff to honor a soldier with Tucson ties who was killed in a Black Hawk helicopter crash off the coast of Yemen.

"Today, all state flags are at half-staff in honor of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Emil Rivera-Lopez," Ducey said Tuesday.

"At just 31 years old, Staff Sgt. Rivera-Lopez served more than 11 years in the military, where he dedicated himself to defending our country and its freedoms," the governor said. "Arizona is eternally grateful for Staff Sgt. Rivera-Lopez’s service. Our state mourns with his family, and sends our prayers and deepest condolences."

Rivera-Lopez was declared dead by the Army late last week, a week after he went missing in the August 25 crash during a training exercise about 20 miles off the coast of Yemen, a war-wracked nation on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Five other soldiers from the helicopter were rescued.

Rivera-Lopez was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He had lived in Tucson — a connection noted in a tweet from U.S. Sen. John McCain — and had most recently been living in Savannah, Ga., according to news reports.

Rivera-Lopez had been serving as a Black Hawk crew chief, and had received several service awards and decorations, including an Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism medals, three bronze service stars, and an Overseas Service Ribbon, Army officials said.

A report from Military.com said that he was serving with the "elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The unit, known as the Night Stalkers, specializes in flying difficult nighttime missions, often ferrying ground special operations troops into battle."

"The military has a small number of troops deployed in Yemen to aid the fight against an al-Qaida group in the country. It has conducted ground raids this year against the terrorist group there, including an operation in late January in which Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William Owens was killed, and an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft was destroyed after it crashed," Military.com said.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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