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MILITARY DEATHS

Army Pvt. Grant Cotting, 19, Corona; soldier had a gift for friendship

March 15, 2009|Catherine Ho

Always one to look for the silver lining, Grant Cotting found joy in what would have been unbearable for many teenage boys: trailing his friend to 15 stores on a mission to find the perfect accessory.

"He got a real kick out of it and thought it was the funniest thing," said Kelsey Kingston, 19, of their hunt for a gold sweater. "He'd laugh at some of the stuff they were trying to sell. He was one of the few guys I could take shopping with me, and he'd tell me if I looked good or not. And he'd be completely honest."

After five hours of ducking in and out of dressing rooms, Kingston found her sweater. The shopping expedition is one of the memories she savors of a friend who died too soon.

Pvt. Grant Cotting died Jan. 24 in Kut, Iraq, of injuries from a non-combat-related incident. He was 19. His death is under investigation.

A self-described "total dork" -- as he wrote on his MySpace page -- with an affinity for Dungeons and Dragons, Cotting graduated from Buena Vista High School in Corona in 2008. He was assigned to the 515th Sapper Company, 5th Engineer Battalion, 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. The unit was deployed to Iraq in November 2008.

Cotting was serving as a combat engineer, responsible for clearing roads and surrounding areas of improvised explosive devices.

Born in Orange, Cotting was the oldest of five brothers whose patient nature and sense of humor always seemed to cheer up a friend in need, said Kingston, who considered Cotting her best friend.

Underneath the easygoing exterior, she and others said, was a determined young man with a mind of his own.

"He was a good son, stubborn and trying at times like most kids," his father, Craig Cotting, said in an e-mail. "Eager to spread his wings and become a man. Questioned the status quo."

Kingston said her friend made the decision to join the Army "all by himself. No one else was involved in it. When he wanted something, he just went out and got it."

A month before his departure to Iraq, Cotting wrote a MySpace entry titled, "Reasons why I joined." In it, he explained his decision to enlist, among them: "For family, for friends, for enemies, for no-bodies, for future flames, for past romances. . . ."

He continued, "I fight for us to remember our past, to get to our future, to live our lives. . . . But above all those, I Am Your Soldier."

Cotting helped bond an eclectic group of friends, said Ben Gutierrez, 19, who first met Cotting when they were high school freshmen.

"He was the glue that tied us all together, and I still believe he is," Gutierrez said. "All of us are different, but he put us together, and he was the comic relief that cheered us all up. He was just a good friend, and I believe he's the better of us."

Ross Schumann, 20, who completed basic training with Cotting, said he was hardworking, easy to get along with and even-tempered. He struggled with passing the physical fitness test but was relentless in his efforts to improve, Schumann said.

"You could tell it was hard for him to get in better shape, but he was one of those guys who'd never just lay on the ground while we were doing push ups," he said. "He'd always try to do one more push up or run one more mile."

During the 15-week training, Cotting's upbeat attitude made him an easy confidant to colleagues who struggled with being away from friends and family.

"He was well-liked among all of us. There's not one guy who knew him who'd tell you they didn't like him," Schumann said. "You knew that if you were in the line of fire, he would help you. He wouldn't leave you there."

Cotting is survived by his parents, Craig and Amanda Cotting of Corona, and brothers Branden, 15; Nick, 10; Scott, 7; and Lucas, 4. He is buried at Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

As friends think of him now, they often recall his knack for turning a bad day around with a wry joke. Once, after a particularly stressful day, Kingston vented on her MySpace page, saying, "Drama is like a pie in the face. It's really funny when it happens to someone else, but not when there's a pie in your own face."

She ended the post with a good-natured jab at Cotting: "Haha, find the silver lining in that one."

Cotting wrote back: "The pie tin."

It made her day.

--

catharine.ho@latimes.com

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