Los Angeles Times
April 3, 2003

Marine's Family Came First, His Brother Says

Killed Sunday when his helicopter went down, the pilot left a wife and three children.

By George Ramos
Times Staff Writer

Members of his family gathered for mutual support Wednesday at the Temecula home of Marine Capt. Aaron J. Contreras, killed Sunday
when the UH-1 Huey helicopter he was piloting crashed in the Iraqi desert.

It was a gesture of solidarity he would have appreciated.

For the 31-year-old Marine pilot, "it was family first," his brother, David Contreras, said. "That was the kind of guy he was."

David Contreras, 34, said his brother bought the neat, two-story, Spanish-style house here a few months ago because Temecula was a good
place for him and his wife, Janelle, to raise their 11-year-old son and their daughters, 8 and 4.

That meant a round-trip commute of close to 100 miles every day to Camp Pendleton, where Contreras was assigned to Marine Light
Helicopter Attack Squadron 169.

But he didn't mind the drive, his brother said, because the schools in Temecula are good and he could be home with his wife and children every

That devotion to family first surfaced when David Contreras was 7. He said he, another brother and a friend were playing when an older boy
accosted them and started hitting them with a stick.

Though only 4, Aaron charged at the attacker and told him, "You leave my brothers alone," David Contreras said. He said the older boy fled.

Born in San Jose, Aaron Contreras was raised in Sherwood, Ore., a suburb of Portland. At Sherwood High School, he excelled at football
and basketball, said Father Thomas McCarthy, pastor of St. Francis Church, which the family attended.

After graduation, Contreras attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., where he earned his wings as a helicopter pilot.

He returned to Sherwood and, in his mid-20s, joined St. Francis' Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration prayer group, McCarthy said. Each member committed to praying
at the church one hour a week, forming a continuous prayer through the week. Contreras signed up for 9 p.m. Fridays, and he never missed his commitment, the
priest said.

"I believe that he really found strength in his faith," said McCarthy, who remembered a "subtle spiritual kind of quality" about Contreras.

In 1997, he joined the Marines and moved to Southern California.

The family -- he, his parents and some of his four brothers -- got together in Temecula last Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the subject of overseas duty never came

"He wasn't the kind of guy to worry about those sorts of things," David Contreras said. "He would do what his country asked him to do, and not worry about it. He
just hoped that he would come home."

The Pentagon said the Marine captain and two of his crew died Sunday when their helicopter crashed during takeoff from a refueling depot in southern Iraq. The
cause of the crash has not been determined, but officials said weather might have been a factor.

Since Contreras' death, McCarthy said, the Marine's parents have joined the continuous prayer group to which he had belonged.

Times staff writers Eric Malnic and Jose Cardenas and the Associated Press contributed to this report.