Master Sgt. Aaron C. Torian, a native of Paducah, died Saturday doing what he did best - serving his country and leading by example.
Torian, 36, was critically injured as a result of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Afghanistan. He was serving in his sixth military tour - two in Iraq and four in Afghanistan - and had just celebrated a decade in the service, according to mother Esta Smith.
"From a mom's perspective, he didn't have to be a Marine to be a spectacular human being," she said.
Smith described her son as a daredevil who always strived to work the hardest and be the best. Torian decided to enlist following completion of graduate school in 1999 and was spurred on by the Sept. 11 terror attacks. After he completed basic training in Parris Island, S.C., he was sent on his first tour in Iraq.
She said her son was promoted quickly through the ranks due to his strong leadership skills and genuine love for his fellow officers. He moved up from corporal, to lance corporal, to sergeant to first sergeant, to gunnery sergeant and finally master sergeant. He was also a member of the Marine special operations unit.
In 10 years, Torian was only one level from the highest distinction for a noncommissioned officer. But he was looking forward to continuing in the service and reaching the 20-year mark, she said.
"He ultimately gave everything for his county and he never put himself anything but last," she said. "He gave everything because he loved his country."
In 2006, when Torian was a sergeant, he was named the 2nd Marine Division's noncommissioned officer of the year. The award recognized his performance, physical fitness and leadership skills during Operation Phantom Fury, the push through Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004.
"At one time, my CO (commanding officer) told me, 'Hey, go to bed,'" said Torian at the time, explaining how his command took note of his hard work. "I had to run the team, I had to step up. I just figured that this is what I'd joined the Marine Corps to do, so I always did it 100 percent."
He was labeled as the go-to guy for his knowledge and initiative by his commanding officers on many occasions for his ability to lead units effectively through conflict zones and manage the affairs of entire platoons, according to Smith.
But when he was home on leave in Jacksonville, N.C., he excelled at being a husband to wife Jurley and father to Elijah, 9, Laura Bella, 4, and Avery, 2.
"He was a great dad and always everything his children needed him to be," she said. "When he got off the plane, being the best dad and best husband were his number one priority."
He grew up in the local area before his family moved to Maryland. After graduating from Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf, Md., he attended and received a bachelor's degree from the University of Tennessee at Martin on a football scholarship. He then obtained a master's degree at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, Tenn.
"In his 36 years of life, he did more than most people do in 80 years," Smith said. "He gave a great service to this world."
The Department of Defense hadn't released a news release confirming the casualty as of Sunday night. Family members will gather in Dover, Del., to receive his body on Tuesday. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, Smith said.
Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.