AUGUSTA – Cpl. Andrew Hutchins, 20, of New Portland had just fallen from a tower in Afghanistan after volunteering to fix it in heavy rain.
When Staff Sgt. Jarrod Stritt heard someone yelling for a medic, he ran over and discovered Hutchins lying on the ground. As usual, Hutchins was smiling.
“He said, ‘My wrist hurts, and my hip feels funny,’ ” Stritt told about 350 people Friday at Hutchins’ funeral at the Augusta Armory. While Hutchins lay in the rain on that March day, he added that he wasn’t going home.
It turned out that Hutchins had shattered his wrist and cracked a hip bone. He was evacuated to the United States for surgery and physical therapy.
Hutchins was determined to return to Afghanistan to help his comrades, Stritt said, and he healed fast, surprising his doctors. His unit members were thankful when he arrived back in Afghanistan on Sept. 14, but understood the sacrifice he had made to leave behind his pregnant wife.
When Stritt asked Hutchins why he returned, Hutchins said it was worth it if his presence helped the team.
“As a leader, I’m supposed to inspire soldiers, but I learned from Andrew,” Stritt said, standing next to his friend’s flag-draped coffin. “He inspired me.”
Not long after he returned to Afghanistan, Hutchins — a 2008 Carrabec High School graduate and military policeman assigned to the Army’s 3rd Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division — was on a tower again, guarding the military base in Khost Province.
This time, he was attacked. Hutchins was killed on Nov. 8 when insurgents struck with small-arms fire.
In the minutes before the funeral Friday, the armory hall was filled with silence, interrupted only by an airplane overhead and then the sound of footsteps. The mourners stood and turned to watch as servicemen wheeled Hutchins’ casket to the front of the room, followed by immediate family members.
They filed past poster boards taped with photos of Hutchins in Maine and Afghanistan. They walked past a table where people could write messages to Hutchins’ unborn daughter, describing the father she will never meet.
“Maine has lost a great young soldier, a great young man. His family has lost a part of themselves,” said the chaplain, Col. Valmore Vigue, during the prayer at the beginning of the hourlong service.
“Hutchins was a warrior,” said Maj. Gen. John Libby of the Maine Army National Guard. He was a soldier “with dreams unlived and potential unfilled. A hero.”
People will not forget that Hutchins died while protecting Americans’ liberties, Libby said.
When Maj. Gen. Karl Horst stepped up to speak, he said he met Hutchins’ family at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware when Hutchins’ body was returned to the United States. Hutchins’ father, Jeffrey, asked him, “Why? Why Andrew?”
Horst said he didn’t have a good answer. During the next few days he thought of the family, pondered the question and prayed, he said. At 3:30 a.m. on Friday, he abruptly awoke and thought of the prophet Isaiah telling God, “Here I am, Lord. Send me,” he said.
Despite the risk, Hutchins served his country, Horst said. “Cpl. Andrew Hutchins answered, ‘Here I am. Send me.’ “
Toward the end of the funeral, Vigue held back tears as he described Hutchins. He was a “high achiever,” Vigue said. In addition to taking challenging classes in school, he could align a Rubik’s Cube in two minutes.
He enjoyed bird hunting, fly-fishing, basketball, baseball and weightlifting. He won awards for his art. He was “loved by his bosses,” and in Afghanistan he volunteered for duties no one else wanted, Vigue said.
He was also a poet. In eighth grade, when he was 14, he wrote a poem about his cousin who enlisted and was sent to Iraq. He was injured, sent home and returned to combat. Unlike Hutchins, he survived the war.
Hutchins wrote about his cousin’s wounds. “You don’t need the scar,” he wrote. “You won’t forget. You won’t forget.”