Pfc. Jean Cruz De Leon, 20, was participating in airborne training onto Galahad Drop Zone at Fort Stewart, Georgia, when he died. Army officials provided no other details about the malfunction except to say that the incident is under investigation.
The soldier, whose name-tapes show he went by ‘Cruz,’ was an infantryman assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
“Cruz was a great Soldier, always made everyone laugh when everyone was down, constantly raising the team’s morale. He consistently strived to better himself and was always there for his battle buddies,” said his weapons squad team leader, Spc. Brandon Arnold, in a prepared statement.
Cruz enlisted in the Army out of Marrero, Louisana, in May 2019 and reported to his first duty assignment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in October 2019.
The 1st battalion commander, Lt. Col. Matthew Molly, said that the unit would be reaching out to Cruz’s family and ensuring every resource is available to them, as well as his peers.
Cruz served as a grenadier and radio-transmitter operator for Alpha Company. Capt. Charles McDonald, the company commander, called the deceased paratrooper a "positive influence” who was eager to learn.
The sentiment was echoed by Cruz’s platoon leader in a separate statement.
“Pfc. Cruz wanted to learn as much as he could when he assumed the role as RTO," 2nd Lt. Michael Vecchio said. “Whenever he was given a task he would go out and find the answers just so he could learn his craft.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the post where the paratrooper died as Fort Benning, Georgia. The incident actually occurred at Fort Stewart, Georgia. The story has been updated.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.