Police Chief Charlie Beck and others remembered an LAPD SWAT team
sergeant and killed in Afghanistan. Sgt. Major Robert J. Cottle, a 45-year-old
LAPD veteran, and Lance Cpl. Rick Centanni, 19, were killed Wednesday by the
same roadside improvised explosive device while riding in an armored truck in
southern Helmand Province.
Two other Marines were seriously wounded. Both Marines,
coincidentally, lived in Yorba Linda. Family members and friends there were told
of the casualties late Thursday. Cottle, assigned to the Los Angeles Police
Department's elite Metropolitan Division, was the first active sworn member of
the LAPD killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to the Los Angeles Police
Protective League, the police union. Scores of LAPD officers knew Cottle,
including some who graduated with him from the Los Angeles Police Academy, and
said they were devastated when news of his death was reported Thursday. LAPD's
new chief had known Cottle for 20 years. "He was a man of great character; a man
of great ability; a man with a huge heart," Beck said today, as 39 recruits
became police officers at the Police Academy in Elysian Park. "And he
demonstrated the passion in his life, which was protecting others, in everything
he did. He did that as a police officer when he worked for me on the streets of
South Los Angeles; he did that as an officer in Metropolitan Division; and he
did that as a sergeant major in the United States Marine Corps."
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa Thursday said Cottle "will eternally
remain a part of this department. His unwavering dedication to public service
will undoubtedly live on as an example to future generations of officers."
Kenneth A. Cottle of Villa Park said his son had been due back from his
tour of duty at the end of May. Cottle's wife, Emily, serves in the Navy in
Hawaii. The two married about a year ago and have an 8-month-old daughter, Kaila
Jane. Kenneth Cottle, an Air Force veteran, recalled his son was so eager to be
a Marine that he tried to enlist when he was 17 but had to wait another year.
Cottle ended his active service in the Marine Corps in 1990, when he joined the
LAPD, but he wanted to fight in Afghanistan, his father said. He had been there
since last August.
Centanni also had local police ties. His father, Sgt. Jon Centanni, serves
in the Santa Ana Police Department's gang unit, said Santa Ana police Detective
Jose Becerra, a family friend. Centanni joined the Marines right out of high
school and aspired to be a cop just like his father, Becerra said. Both Cottle
and Centanni belonged to the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, based
in Camp Pendleton. Becerra, who thought of the young man like a nephew,
recounted that when Centanni was 17, he stayed close to Becerra as his
"honorary" uncle recuperated from surgery. "He wouldn't leave my side," Becerra
said. "I said, `Go, do what you need to do. It's summertime.' But he wouldn't
leave until my wife came home."
Cottle and Centanni were traveling in an armored vehicle with two
other Marines in Marja, an agricultural community dominated by opium farming in
southwest Afghanistan, when their vehicle struck an IED. Marja was seized from
Taliban rebels in a major offensive last month. The bodies of Cottle and
Centanni will be flown to Delaware and then to the Joint Forces Training Base in
Los Alamitos, probably next week, Kenneth Cottle said.