Pvt. Aurek S. Rardin was a member of the 198th Infantry Brigade at Fort Benning. (Lafayette Journal & Courier)
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The father of a National Guard soldier who died in basic training in Fort Benning, Ga., over the weekend said his son had dreamed of joining the military ever since he was in middle school in Lafayette.
Pvt. Aurek S. Rardin, 20, a National Guard member assigned to the 198th Infantry Brigade at Fort Benning, died Saturday after becoming ill following an overnight "ruck march," according to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
A ruck march, a fast-paced hike completed while carrying a heavy backpack, is one of the final stages of basic training.
According to the newspaper report, military personnel revived Rardin at a military hospital and then took him to St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, where he was pronounced dead early Saturday.
Brent Rardin, Aurek's father, said Aurek was on his last training exercise before he would have completed advanced infantry training. Aurek was exactly where he wanted to be, his dad said.
"His letters back to us were all about excitement about doing the things he was doing," he said.
The father praised the National Guard for its support of the family. He said an autopsy found nothing unusual and that the Army continues to investigate the death.
Aurek, who was born in Tennessee, moved to Lafayette when he was an infant and graduated from Jefferson High School in 2012.
"He liked to serve people, like to try to make people happy and tell jokes and get people to see the happier side of life," Brent Rardin said.
Rardin was expected to graduate from basic training May 9.
Shelby Eisenhut of Lafayette said she has known Rardin since seventh grade at Tecumseh Jr. High School and was a co-worker with him at Goodrich Quality Theaters. She and Rardin shared an apartment shortly before Rardin left for basic training in January, she said.
On Saturday she was stunned to learn of his death. She said she takes solace in the fact that Rardin died serving his country.
"He's where he wanted to be," Eisenhut said. "All he ever talked about was fighting for his country, and that's what he was doing."
Rardin worked at Eastside 9 movie theater from November 2011 to January 2014. General manager Craig Rittenhouse said Rardin quickly became one of his most dependable staff members.
"He was very dedicated and very well liked among the staff, and that made him a good leader," Rittenhouse said.
It was no secret among co-workers that Rardin had dreams of serving in the military.
"He was always talking about it, coming in in his fatigues, showing us his stuff and paperwork," Rittenhouse recalled. "He always had a big bright smile on his face when he talked about it."
All three Goodrich multiplexes in Lafayette and West Lafayette are flying their flags at half staff in honor of Rardin, Rittenhouse said.
"Sometimes you have these people that come into your life and they have a presence that will continue, and those are few and far between," Rittenhouse said. "Definitely Aurek was one of those."
Brent Rarkin said funeral arrangements are not yet finalized.