MERIDIAN — Pete Kinnaman hadn’t expected his student Dustin Ard to go into the military. Once he learned he had, Kinnaman wasn’t surprised to learn Ard had taken a leadership role.
Kinnaman, a social studies teacher at Meridian Medical Arts Charter High School, remembered Ard from the two years he attended the school. Ard was a member of the school’s first graduating class in 2006. He was born in eastern Idaho, where his father served as mayor of Ammon, and moved to Boise at age 11, according to a Facebook comment from his sister Leslie Scoresby on a post from state Rep. Rod Furniss of Rigby.
Ard joined the U.S. Army in 2011. He became a Green Beret, and rose to the rank of Sergeant 1st Class. On Aug. 29, Ard died from wounds sustained in combat in Afghanistan’s Zabul Province, where he fought as a member of the 1st Special Forces Group. He would have been 32 years old in October.
A U.S. Army press release offers Ard’s place of birth as Idaho Falls, and describes his two deployments in Afghanistan, as well as his decorated military career, which included earning the Bronze Star and the Army Achievement Medal. As his social studies teacher, though, Kinnaman knew Ard during the period of time the press release does not describe.
He remembered Ard as perhaps one of the most intelligent students the school has had. In terms of test-taking, Kinnaman said, Ard was “off the charts” — but the boy didn’t brag about it.
“He wasn’t cocky, he wasn’t arrogant, he wasn’t a jerk — he just knew himself, and he knew that he was capable,” Kinnaman said.
Back then, Kinnaman said, a number of students attending the school weren’t especially interested in a career in medical fields; they simply wanted the smaller class sizes and private-school feel a charter school could offer.
“But Dustin — Dustin was interested,” Kinnaman said.
That’s part of why he was surprised Ard had chosen to join the Army. Although Ard was thin, he was “fiercely physically active,” Kinnaman said.
He remembered Ard and his friends playing ultimate Frisbee, soccer and basketball. According to the school’s yearbook, he also played league soccer. Ard’s other passion, water polo, was more intense.
“He was notorious for, like, pulling people under and intimidating them,” Kinnaman remembered with a laugh.
Ard had a competitive side, and a combination of intelligence and quiet confidence, according to Kinnaman. The quote under his yearbook photograph, attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson, reads, “To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.”
“I know that he was right in front of everything,” Kinnaman said.
On Aug. 29, that meant serving on a joint operation with Afghan commandos in south central Afghanistan, according to the New York Times. The details of his death have not been released, according to the Army Times.
Ard was the second Idaho soldier to die in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars this year. If Ard’s death is confirmed to be the result of enemy fire, he would be the 15th American soldier to be killed in action in Afghanistan this year, the Army Times reports.
Ard is survived by his 3-year-old daughter, Reagan, and his wife, Mary, who is pregnant with their second child. According to a GoFundMe page set up to help the family, Ard met Mary while he was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, working his way through a special forces qualifications course. He graduated that course in 2015, according to a news release from the U.S. Army. After they married, they moved to Fort Lewis, Washington, where Reagan was born.
“Dustin was the kind of guy you want to know. He made friends quickly, and seemed to be able to find a friend wherever he went — Argentina, Indonesia, and even in Afghanistan,” according to the GoFundMe page. “He enjoyed building things for Mary, playing video games, and having a good banter with friends.”
This year has been the deadliest for American troops in Afghanistan since 2015, according to the Army Times story about Ard’s death. In 2015, the American mission there scaled down, and today there are roughly 14,000 American soldiers there, working with international troops to assist Afghan forces against extremist groups, according to the Army Times.
President Donald Trump has said he plans to continue to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, leaving 8,600 American soldiers there, according to the story. Over the weekend, Trump announced he would not hold planned negotiations with the Taliban after another U.S. soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Elis Barreto Ortiz, was killed Sept. 5 in the Afghan capital, Kabul, according to the New York Times.
Meanwhile, social media posts about Ard’s death were dotted with comments thanking him and his family, and expressing sadness and sympathy for his loved ones. One person commented from as far away as Denmark. Gov. Brad Little ordered all U.S. and state flags in Idaho be flown at half-mast on Saturday, in Ard’s honor.
The GoFundMe campaign — which listed $15,000 as its original goal — has since raised more than $48,800 as of Wednesday evening.
“It is awe-inspiring to witness how people from around the world have rallied together in support of Mary and the kids,” wrote Diana Barone, the page’s organizer, in a post dated to Saturday.
Barone did not return a message from the Idaho Press asking for comment.
“Above all else though, Dustin loved his family,” Barone wrote in the original post, created Sept. 5. “Anyone who has ever seen Dustin and Mary together know they were perfect for one another. He was the epitome of what it means to be a family man. He loved Mary and Reagan more than anything, and was excited to have recently found out that Mary is carrying a baby boy.”
According to the Facebook post from Rep. Furniss, Ard’s funeral will take place 3 p.m. Saturday, in Lakewood, Washington
Editor’s note — This story has been updated to reflect the following corrections: Dustin Ard attended Meridian Medical Arts Charter High School for two years. An earlier version of the story included the wrong number of years. Additionally, Ard achieved the rank of sergeant first class, which is not considered an officer position. An earlier version of the story referred to it as an officer position.Tommy Simmons is the Ada County public safety reporter for the Idaho Press. Follow him on Twitter @tsimmonsipt