Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Labor Day Musing: In Memoriam, [Lance] Corporal Ayron Christopher Kull

I never met the young man named Ayron Kull, but a routine assignment for Mine Safety and Health News created a haunting memory of him.

The facts on public record and online are sketchy, but enough to create a picture.

He was born in 1983, or maybe late 1982. [It was 1982 -- see below.] He attended Howard Elementary School in Niles, Mich. After graduating from Niles High School in 2001, he joined the Marines. He became a lance corporal with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 2nd Battalion 1st Marines (2/1) Fox Company, stationed at Camp Pendleton in California. His picture, in dress uniform, shows a young, serious-looking fellow.

His unit went to Iraq.

His mother, Jenny Kull, is clearly one of those special people who go beyond the norm to help others.

Mrs. Kull, who "saw online how soldiers were asking for things from home," such as eye drops, moist towlettes, sunscreen, and assorted other personal hygiene items, had already been shipping packages on her own when she shared the idea of adopting her son's unit with other staff members at school.

"Then it snowballed from there," says Mrs. Krull, who has another son in the Air Force. Students and staff at both Howard and Ellis Elementary Schools jumped on the bandwagon, and the Howard-Ellis PTO stepped forward to cover the cost of shipping the packages.

Mrs. Krull's Adopt-a-Marine project offered a list of suggested items along with a resealable plastic bag to people who wanted to participate.

"There are specific guidelines in sending out the packages," Mrs.Krull says. "I told people at school to have fun with it and add something unique."

Judy Bybee's sixth-grade class, who had been writing letters to soldiers, began filling the gallon size bags to send to Lance Cpl. Kull's unit.

Ayron Kull served two tours in Iraq. While there, he made the acquaintance of a reporter for the North County Times, who was writing a series called "Postcards From Fallujah." Darrin Mortenson's stories mentioned him three times.

On April 17, 2004:

Lance Cpl. Ayron Kull, 21, of Nyles, Mich., managed to catch one of the dozens of chickens that run wild in the streets of this lawless and deserted section of Fallujah within the cordon.

April 30:

"I still think we should push forward," said Lance Cpl. Ayron Kull, 20, of Niles, Mich., who was just coming off a shift monitoring the late-afternoon firefight in the city Friday. "But maybe it's good. Let's give the Iraqis a chance. Maybe they can do it and we won't have to come back here and start all over again."

And most poignantly in light of later events, on May 5:

Lance Cpl. Ayron Kull, 21, of Niles, Mich., was a radioman who could make light of even the worst days by poking and jabbing at friends and talking endlessly about what it was going to be like "when we get back."

There's a picture of him with his buddies in Fallujah here, if you click on the forward arrow to the second picture.

Ayron Kull's active duty ended in 2005. He returned to Niles, Mich. At some point around this time, his father passed away. [His final rank was Cpl. His fathers actually passed away between his two tours. See update below.]

He got a job in a local sand and gravel operation, the Aggregate Industries, Inc., Milliken Plant. (Interestingly -- but not really unusual in this industry -- although the plant employed only seven workers, the company was ultimately controlled by a global giant, Holcim Group, which is based in Switzerland and says it has some 80,000 employees worldwide.)

Four weeks and two days after starting his new job, Ayron Kull was dead.

Assigned to shovel spilled material from around a conveyor belt, he approached the moving belt from underneath a crusher that stood above the end of it. There was no machine guard on that side. He somehow contacted the moving machinery.

Two co-workers noticed the conveyor had stopped. At first they didn't realize what had happened, investigators later reported. They thought that maybe the belt was overloaded. They shut off the power. A supervisor arrived to check into the problem. Then someone saw Ayron Kull's safety glasses sitting on a horizontal beam at the back of the plant. He found the missing man caught in the machinery.

Fellow workers sliced throught the heavy conveyor belting and cut off Ayron Kull's reflective vest and coveralls to free him. By then, emergency services had arrived, but efforts to revive the injured man were in vain. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Ayron Kull's family and friends said goodbye to him on Saturday, April 8. Buddies from the Marines flew in to attend the service, and a group of Iraq veterans who are also motorcyclists, calling themselves the Patriot Guard, sent representatives.

The Patriot Guard advised its members that memorial contributions could be made to the Wounded Warriors Memorial Fund, c/o Great Western Bank, Building 147, Offutt Air Force Base, Bellevue, NB 68113.

Ayron Kull's supervisors at work who knew him, surely, must grieve over his death also.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration investigated the accident. On April 14, MSHA cited Aggregate Industries for a single alleged violation in that Ayron Kull was working around the unguarded machinery without its being de-energized and blocked against motion. The investigators also reported that the plant management had not established safe procedures for employees to clear away spillage near moving conveors and that Ayron Kull did not recognize the hazard of what he was doing.

Sometime -- it may not be for several more months -- the company will be assessed a proposed civil penalty of up to $60,000. The company will have the right to contest the citation and penalty. That could lead to months or even years of litigation. The fine will not, of couse, undo the tragedy. It may not even be enough to convince upper-level management -- who never knew Ayron Kull -- to invest more time and resources in accident prevention.

More than 5,000 Americans die on the job annually. Ayron Kull's story is especially poignant in that he survived a war only to lose his life in earning a livelihood.

On this Labor Day, after the hot dogs and apple pie and the 1938 recording of Kate Smith singing "The Star Spangled Banner" so clear and true and straight from the heart, it seems right to take a moment to remember Corporal Kull and the others like him.

We can do better by America's working families. If we and our leaders keep in mind the Ayron Kulls of this country, and if in remembering, we have the will.

Update with corrections: January 19, 2007. I've learned from someone who was close to Ayron Kull that I had a few details wrong and there is even more to his story.

New information: He was born June 16, 1982. His final rank was Corporal. His father actually passed away between his two tours in Iraq. His safety vest caught in the conveyor and as a result he was suffocated. The machinery did not do the damage directly.

More: "I think it's important for people to know that on his first tour he couldn't even tell his mom he was going because his battaltion was one of the first over the line -- and his second tour wasn't much prettier being that Ayron and FOX company were stuck in Fallujah for a month."

"Ayron was one of the only people I've ever known that EVERYONE loved. He was always there to make you smile, or to help you out."

He had a life still at its beginning, a family, and a woman who was very dear to him -- who has posted a touching memorial essay at http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=40396731

So many human connections -- and the loss of such a person is really a loss to us all.


Anonymous Rebecca said...

I appreciate your outpouring of care and concern for Ayron, his family, and his friends. I am.... well was... his girlfriend... I occasionally google his name and this time you came up. Your blog is sweet and your intentions are good, but some of your facts are wrong. If you'd like to correct them let me know.

1:13 AM  
Blogger Kathy Snyder said...

Dear Rebecca, Thank you for writing. I apologize for any mistakes in the story and certainly would like to correct them. Please send me an e-mail, if that's all right. The address is ncwaort5(at)hotmail.com -- I mean, use the @ sign in place of (at) -- I substitute (at) when posting the address just to keep internet spammers from harvesting the e-mail address with automatic programs. I prefer not to post my phone number for the same reason, but will send that to you also, if you wish. I am so sorry for your loss. --Kathy

2:04 PM  

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