By Kris Gonzalez, correspondent for www.army.mil
A Rhode Island National Guard soldier gave his life to save an Afghan child.
Sgt. Dennis Weichel Jr. died from injuries sustained when he was struck by an armored fighting vehicle after moving an Afghan boy to safety.
“Sadly, today we realized the death of a Rhode Island National Guard soldier in a combat zone, and we are once again reminded of the enduring sacrifice our soldiers and airmen have made, and continue to make, in service to this great country,” said Army Maj. Gen. Kevin McBride, adjutant general of the Rhode Island National Guard, in a press release.
Weichel, an infantryman, mobilized with Company C, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment, 56th Troop Command, to Camp Atterbury, Ind. in November 2011, and then deployed forward to Afghanistan in early March.
On the morning of March 22, Weichel and members of his unit were leaving the Black Hills Firing Range in Laghman province, Afghanistan, when they encountered multiple Afghan children in the path of their convoy. Weichel was among several soldiers who dismounted to disperse the children away from the vehicles.
As one child attempted to retrieve an item from underneath a U.S. Army mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, known as an MRAP, Weichel moved her to safety and was struck by the MRAP in the process.
Weichel was evacuated to the Jalalabad Medical Treatment Facility where he succumbed to his wounds.
The circumstances of Weichel’s death speak to his character, said Staff Sgt. Ronald Corbett, Weichel’s mentor who deployed with him to Iraq in 2005.
“He would have done it for anybody,” said Corbett. “That was the way he was. He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He was that type of guy.”
Weichel was considered a fun-loving guy yet a model soldier, according to Corbett and 1st Sgt. Nicky Peppe, who also served with Weichel in Iraq.
“When I first heard, I kept expecting him to jump up and say, ‘Oh, I got you guys,’” said Corbett. “The last few days have hit me hard.”
“He was a big kid at heart. He always had a smile on his face and he made everyone laugh,” said Peppe. “But as much as Weichel was funny, he was also a professional. When it was time to go outside the wire for a combat patrol, he was all business.”
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee has ordered U.S. and Rhode Island flags across the state to be flown at half-staff until Weichel is laid to rest.
Weichel is survived by three children, his fiancée, and his parents.
“Tragically, Sgt. Weichel has made the supreme sacrifice, and at this time, we are mindful of the impact of that sacrifice on his family and friends,” McBride said. “I pledge this command’s perpetual support to Sgt. Weichel’s family. We leave no soldier behind, and we will not leave Sgt. Weichel’s family behind.”
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