'Died Living His Dream'

'Died Living His Dream'

Lt. Jorma David Huhtala, former Restonian, laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery.

With the United States Air Force Color Guard on hand and a missing man formation flyover streaking overhead, Lt. Jorma David Huhtala was laid to rest Friday in Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremony marked one week since the 25-year-old Air Force pilot and former Reston resident, died when the F-16 jet he was piloting collided in midair with an identical jet flown by Capt. David Roszmann during a routine training mission over the Utah desert. Roszmann was able to safely eject from his plane and was rescued, according to Air Force officials. Huhtala's body was found one day later, several miles from the site of the crash. Results of an investigation into the cause of the crash are not expected until early next year, an Air Force spokesman said.

<b>BORN IN THAILAND</b> and a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Huhtala, whose mother, Marie Huhtala, is ambassador to Malaysia, graduated from Langston Hughes Middle School in 1991 and spent his freshman year at South Lakes High School before his parents moved to Canada. Huhtala's sister, Karen Rulli, graduated from South Lakes High School in 1992.

It was supposed to be a happy time for Huhtala. In May, he proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Tracy Butterwick, under a Hawaiian waterfall. The couple was to be married next year. They had known each other for almost nine years. He was her history tutor at Brewster Academy, a private boarding school in New Hampshire, where Huhtala went after his parents relocated to Quebec. His friends said they had never seen Huhtala any happier.

In June, Huhtala, a rookie F-16 pilot, joined the Fourth Flight Squadron of the 388th Fighter Wing based in Ogden, Utah. "Nothing made him happier than those jets," Butterwick said. "He had waited his whole life for that moment."

Bill McCullough is the stepfather of one of Huhtala's childhood friends, Sean Griggs, and the three of them used to go to Andrews Air Force Base every year to watch the annual air show. McCullough said Huhtala was especially intrigued by the F-16 jets on display. "Jorm turned to me on one of our trips to Andrews and said, 'I am going to fly one of those one day,'" he recalled. "He was the most determined young man I have ever met. He died living his dream."

<b>WHILE HUHTALA </b>was determined and focused on his goal to be an Air Force pilot, the daredevil in him knew how to have fun, as well, his friends said. Matt Potter and Huhtala met when the two were in sixth grade in Reston. "I remember once we were busted for hiding rancid cheese all around the school," Potter said. "It smelled worse than a stink bomb. We thought it was just the funniest thing. We were just being dumb kids."

While he loved a good prank, Huhtala never took his eye off his goal, Potter said. "He was smart without being obnoxious," he said. "Jorm always kept up with school work, because he knew what he had to do. He understood that life is hard work, but that didn't mean he couldn't have fun along the way."

Huhtala was equally at home reading physics books for fun, discussing international politics, jumping out of airplanes or watching "The Simpsons," his friends said.

Moving around a lot as a child and being separated from his parents made Huhtala a stronger person, his friend Evan Moseman said. "Having to be the new guy would make a lot of people quiet and shy, but it made Jorm more outgoing," he said. "It was a good thing for him."

In her eulogy to her son Friday morning, Marie said her son had the "rare ability" to make friends with anyone, anywhere.

His friends agreed. "He could talk to anyone at any level of society and you never got the sense that he was looking down on you," said Paul Nabti of Falls Church, who grew up making model rockets and riding bikes with Huhtala. "He went out of his way to make you feel comfortable."

His "work-hard, play-hard" mantra followed him to the Air Force Academy. "Hooch always had some mischievous smirk on his face," said Ray Johnson, who roomed with Huhtala for two-and-a-half years in college. "If you saw that look, you knew he was up to something no good."

Greg Barasch, who was on the school's skydiving team with Huhtala, said his friend's sense of humor was legendary around campus. "I will remember his imagination most," Barasch said laughing. "Hooch was the most original person I ever met."

From elementary school to the Air Force Academy and beyond, Huhtala was a natural leader, his friends said. John Fenwick said it was clear, early on, who was in charge among his friends at the academy. "From day one, Jorm just had this amazing personal charisma," Fenwick said. "You couldn't help but listen to him. He was so genuine."

Jim Taggart, another fellow cadet, agreed. "Hooch was an incredible motivator," Taggart said. "No matter how tough it got and no matter how tired and weak we felt, especially that first year, Jorm was always there to pump us up."

<b>MILITARY FAMILIES</b> learn to live with the knowledge that their loved one might not make it home, yet Butterwick was looking forward to being an Air Force wife. "This is what he wanted and had worked so hard for his entire life," she said. "He was so happy."

Despite the risks, Butterwick, who was studying abroad in New Zealand at the time of the accident, says she never worried about her fiancé, when he was up flying in his F-16. "I worried about all his friends, all of his buddies," Butterwick said, hours after Huhtala's burial at Arlington National Cemetery. "To be perfectly honest, though, I never once worried about Jorm. He didn't fail at anything. It was not an option. Now, I don't know what I am going to do."

At one point in their relationship, Huhtala and Butterwick broke up over religious differences. Despite being baptized and raised Catholic, Huhtala had turned away from religion, his mom and fiancée said. But more than a year ago, Huhtala returned to his religious roots. Butterwick's father baptized the couple together and their bond was never greater, she said. "He was the love of my life," Butterwick said. "He always will be."

Huhtala's mom had seen a change in her son, as well. The last time she saw her son alive, at a family reunion in September, the ambassador said she had a heart-to-heart conversation with her fighter-pilot son. "He had a spiritual quest which led him back to God," she told mourners at Reston's St. John's Catholic Church on Friday morning. "He told me that he felt very close to God."

<b>LT. COL. ROBERT CRAIG </b>was Huhtala's commander in the Fourth Fighter Squadron of the 388th Fighter Wing in Ogden, Utah. Craig saw firsthand the steely resolve of Huhtala. "He had a tremendous competitive drive," Craig said. "Jorma had the makings of being an exceptional pilot and he was especially excellent at dropping bombs."

Craig said it was not uncommon for F-16 pilots to possess such determination and confidence. The planes, he said, typically draw those pilots with an "A-type" personality. "With nobody else in the cockpit," he said, "you have to have high confidence that you will be better than the enemy. Jorma had that."

Moseman, who befriended Huhtala when the two were ninth graders at South Lakes High School, said he has never met anyone who was more brave than Huhtala. "He had a lot of courage and he wasn't afraid of anything," Moseman said. "He was always able to do whatever he wanted to do."

At the academy, Huhtala was a member of the "Wings of Blue," the school's renowned competitive skydiving team. He had completed over 700 successful jumps.

Butterwick, who liked to skydive with Huhtala, said the F-16 was perfectly suited for her fiancé. Huhtala loved the "sexy jet," as he called it, "because with only one seat, no one could tell him what to do."

It was this strong-willed independence that made him a good airman, Craig said. "He was always asking if we were doing something the right way," Huhtala's commander said. "This is rare in young lieutenants — this strength of faith and character."

The 25-year-old rookie pilot had maps of Iraq around his room, Butterwick said. "He would constantly be pulling them out and talking to his squadron about the best way to tackle this war," she said laughing. "He was very adamant and very serious. The war according to Jorm."

Marie Huhtala said her son was anxious and ready to fight for his country. "He fully expected to go with them on their next deployment," she said.

In one of their last conversations together, Potter and Huhtala discussed the possible war with Iraq. "Jorm was real eager to be deployed," Potter said. "He believed in service and he loved his country and he definitely wanted to defend it."

Huhtala became eligible, or combat ready, on Sept. 5, and, according to Craig, Huhtala was clear to deploy if and when their squadron was called. While he had only been in Utah since June, Huhtala had spent one year working with the Joint Euro-NATO undergraduate pilot training program, an elite and competitive program. After words, Huhtala, who his mom honored as, "one of the gifted pilots of his generation," spent three months in flight training school at Moody Air Force Base in Texas and six months at F-16 training school at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

At the memorial service for Huhtala in Utah, Marie Huhtala said she was told by his fellow airmen that her son was "one of the best young pilots they'd ever seen."

Even better and more accurate than his flying, was his ability to hit targets, with precision. It's not uncommon for more senior officers to make a few friendly bets with their younger pilots about who could come closer to a target, Craig said.

"Usually they take all the kids' money," he said. "I remember one lieutenant colonel who was bragging about winning even before he got up in the air against Huhtala. He had to eat his words."

Nothing made Huhtala happier than flying, Butterwick said.

Craig agreed and added that, on the day he died, Huhtala could not have been happier. As he left his plane after the first sortie run, he remarked to one of his fellow pilots, that, "It's a great day to fly."