Evan Strickland, far left, and his fellow Valencia High School band members John Leo Kirkpatrick, Davis Pope, Dylan Jordan and Richard Springer take a minute to strike a pose out on the llano during the 2018 end-of-year awards gala.
After being stationed at Camp Pendleton in southern California for less than a month, U.S. Marine LCpl. Evan Strickland, of Peralta, embarked on his first and final flight as a full-fledged tiltrotor crew chief aboard the aircraft he always wanted to work on — an MV-22 Osprey.
That day, Wednesday, June 8, his dream came true, but the flight ended in tragedy when Strickland and four fellow Marines lost their lives during the routine training when the aircraft crashed.
“Evan had a love for the Osprey from when he was little, maybe 6 years old to 7 years old. His dad — an Air Force veteran — had taken him to an air show,” Strickland’s mother, Michelle, said. “He sat in the cockpit of the Osprey and he just fell in love with it.”
Strickland’s decision to join the U.S. Marine Corps bent on him being able to work on an air crew, otherwise he planned on following his father’s footsteps to pursue a career in the U.S. Air Force. Not only was he able to train to be crew chief, but he was able to serve on the aircraft he had fallen in love with a decade prior.
“When it came to picking what aircraft he wanted to fly on, Evan, his first pick was the Osprey,” Michelle said, “and well, he got his first pick.”
Strickland, along with two other tiltrotor crew chiefs — Cpl. Nathan Carlson and Cpl. Seth Rasmuson — and two pilots — Capt. Nicholas Losapio and Capt. John Sax — died when the MV-22 Osprey crashed. All five Marines were based at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Calif.
Strickland had only been at Camp Pendleton for just a couple weeks in his first permanent duty assignment, serving for only one year and seven months, before the crash occurred.
The cause of the crash is still pending investigation.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered that flags throughout the state be flown at half-staff in mourning of Strickland and the others killed.
“I am heartbroken by the tragic death of five brave Marines, including Lance Cpl. Evan Strickland, a son of New Mexico and a graduate of Valencia High School,” said Lujan Grisham in a statement. “LCpl. Strickland had his whole life in front of him when he made the selfless choice to serve his fellow New Mexicans and his country in the United States Marines. My prayers are with his family, his loved ones, and his fellow Marines as they grieve this terrible loss.”
Before joining the Marines shortly following his graduation in 2020, Strickland was a dedicated member of both the Valencia Middle School and Valencia High School bands, with the jazz saxophone being his instrument of choice.
“He just liked the sound of it, he just liked it,” Michelle said. “To me, I know every mother seems to dote on their child, but he has a natural ability meant for the saxophone. He really enjoyed it.”
Davis Pope, a good friend of Strickland, who also played saxophone, said one of his favorite moments was during a jazz gala where he and Evan played a back-and-forth piece.
“Me and him had this really cool back-and-forth solo, and it was truly fun,” Pope said. “Preparing for that was just super fun.”
Strickland even convinced Pope to riff with him during their rehearsed performance.
“He was always just so good at his instrument, and the thing I loved most is as a traditional student in the band course, he may not have been considered the best, but that’s because he did his own thing,” said Dylan Jordan, another close friend of Strickland and fellow saxophonist. “He wanted to be the best player in the way he wanted to be the best player, and that is very admirable.”
Jordan, Pope and Strickland created their own saxophone quartet with another friend, John Kirkpatrick. The four bandmates had been playing together since middle school.
“The funny thing is, Evan was always a friend that made me laugh in class, in band specifically,” Kirkpatrick said. “So, the friendship kind of started there and it never changed, honestly. I guess that’s why we were friends for so long.”
Kirkpatrick’s favorite memory with Strickland was during a band trip to Hawaii. When they were given a chance to explore, he and Strickland found a little dive restaurant where they ordered Spam musubi and other Hawaian staples. Together, they just sat on the side of the road and ate.
“For some reason, that’s just a really good memory because we were just enjoying our lives and we were just together having a great time,” Kirkpatrick said. “I remember that moment more than anything.”
The friends agreed one of the most memorable traits Strickland had was his sense of humor.
“He was just the funniest guy ever,” Jordan said. “He just made me laugh out of absolutely nowhere like no one else could. Just being next to him, he would be hilarious and it was unprompted — just hilarity. Like I said, no one could do it quite like he could.”
“For me, it was just his zany sense of humor. He could deliver a one-liner out of the blue, deadpan face,” Strickland’s mother said. “It was hard when he was little to get mad at him and discipline him because he would do something and you would look at him. It was one of those moments where you, as a parent, you can’t help but laugh.”
Strickland’s older brother, Logan, said it will be the small moments he will remember most about his brother, like a short trip he took to North Carolina to visit Evan since his work schedule made him unable to attend Evan’s graduation.
“I was able to see him just for a weekend, just because, and it’s those moments you spend with family that are the best ones,” Logan said. “… It wasn’t anything special as far as occasions go, but to me it was special.”
Evan and Logan went to the zoo, to the mall and ate green chile cheeseburgers, which he said Even was craving after spending time away from New Mexico.
Evan’s family said his funeral arrangements are in the process of being planned.
“To everyone that has an Evan in their life,” Logan said, “make sure you tell them you love them, everyday.”
Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.