Army Ranger from Pitman killed in night fight in Afghanistan

Army Ranger Alessandro Plutino died in a night battle.
Army Ranger Alessandro Plutino died in a night battle.
Posted: August 09, 2011

Army Ranger Alessandro "Sandrino" Plutino called his family from Afghanistan on Sunday to put fears to rest.

He knew they'd be worrying about him after 30 U.S. service members were killed Saturday in a helicopter crash in the country's Wardak province.

Plutino assured them that he was fine. Even better, he had learned he'd be coming home to Pitman in 15 days. He couldn't wait to see his mother, Dianne; father, Sandro; sister, Brenna, and fiancée, Natalie Layton.

That all changed early Monday.

Dianne Plutino had just taken the dog out when Army officials rang the doorbell at 5:30 a.m. with news of her son's death during a night fight with the enemy. He would have turned 29 this month.

"I couldn't believe it," she said. "I thought, it can't be. I just talked to him. They don't want me. You've got to be kidding."

From the time Sandrino Plutino was 4 and dressed in Army garb, he seemed interested in the military. Family, friends, even Pitman Mayor Michael Batten attempted to talk him out of it.

"He tried to quit high school, but I kicked his butt and he finished," said Dianne Plutino. "He was going into the service after that, but a friend talked him out of it - and he finished college."

Plutino spent two years at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass., then two more at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, where he graduated with a degree in criminology.

That's when he told Dianne Plutino: "Mom, I love you. I graduated from high school. I graduated from college. Now it's time for me to do what I've got to do."

She said he also told her, "I know you're afraid I'm going to get hurt, but the day God gave me to you, he knew when he would take me home. That can happen no matter where you are."

Plutino was planning to get married next August and was checking into careers with the FBI, CIA, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service and state police, Dianne Plutino said.

At the same time, he "loved being an Army Ranger. Rangers lead the way - that's what they say," said Brenna Plutino. He was on his third tour in Afghanistan after completing three tours in Iraq.

Sandrino Plutino attended schools in Pitman and graduated from Pitman High School in 2001.

"It's a big loss to the community, a brave young man like this," said Patrick McAleer, who taught him history in middle school and now serves as the school district superintendent. "This community has experienced loss in the past. One of our graduates was killed in Iraq several years ago."

In a statement, McAleer said, "His teachers and classmates will always remember Sandrino as a popular and outgoing young man who was always quick with a laugh or a smile.

"He was a committed student who also excelled as an athlete, participating in football and wrestling. . . . The Pitman public schools and entire Pitman community share the loss of this dedicated and brave American."

When Mayor Batten learned of Plutino's death Monday morning, his heart sank. He said he recalled seeing him grow up in the 2.3-square-mile town of less than 10,000 people.

The mayor, a barber, used to give him haircuts at Joe's Barber Shop. On Monday, he found himself ordering the flags to be flown at half-staff, and asking residents to place flags on their properties to honor Plutino and his family.

"The service was his life," Batten said. "It was something he always wanted to do; he didn't become a Ranger by accident."

"He was a young man who loved his country, the type of kid you wanted representing us," he said. "You looked at him and you'd guess that he was an Army Ranger. He was a nice kid but a tough kid. You couldn't ask for better."

The mayor said he tried to talk Plutino out of joining the Rangers "a few times, but this is what he wanted to do and I don't think you could talk him out of it."

At Plutino's home Monday, relatives and friends talked about a well-respected young man who enjoyed nature, and "loved his motorcycle buddies and Ranger buddies."

"I don't think America realizes what it has" in the service members risking their lives around the world, Dianne Plutino said.

Funeral service arrangements had not been completed.


Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.

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