KABUL, Afghanistan — A 30-year-old staff sergeant and father of a 3-month-old son has been identified as the American soldier killed this week in Helmand province — the latest servicemember to die by hostile fire more than a year after the end of the NATO-led combat mission in Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock, of Des Moines, Wash., joined the Army in 2006 and served as a Special Forces engineer sergeant, the Washington National Guard said in a statement.
“On January 5th 2016 the greatest man I know, my husband, the love of my life, Matthew was killed in action,” McClintock’s wife, Alexandra McClintock, wrote in a Facebook post. “Matthew always wanted to be a father and I’m blessed to have been able to give him a son who he got to meet and loved with all his heart.”
McClintock deployed to Iraq in 2007 before being selected by the U.S. Army Special Forces School in May 2009, according to Army Times. He previously deployed to Afghanistan between August 2012 and May 2013 and left active duty for the guard in December 2014.
His most recent deployment to Afghanistan, which began in July, was with the Washington Army National Guard’s Company A, 1/19th Special Forces Group and began in July, the Guard said.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee released a statement praising McClintock’s service.
“The death of any servicemember is tragic,” Inslee said. “The death of one of our own is especially difficult to grasp. My thoughts and prayers are with Staff Sgt. McClintock’s friends and family, including his young wife and infant son. He is a true American hero who stood up to protect his state and nation.”
Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, commander of the Washington National Guard, also released a statement, in which he called McClintock’s death a “tough loss for our organization.”
“Staff Sgt. McClintock was one of the best of the best,” Daugherty said. “He was a Green Beret who sacrificed time away from his loved ones to train for and carry out these dangerous missions.”
There was an outpouring of support on social media for a man many knew as “Tatonka.”
“It was my honor to have met you, and so many will share your story with your son — I pray your memory will live on in all of us,” a friend wrote on Facebook.
Another posted, “You made me proud to call you brother. All that you have done in this world will not be forgotten.”
McClintock was killed by small-arms fire Tuesday during an hourslong battle in the Marjah district of Helmand province. Two other American troops and four Afghan soldiers were injured, military officials said. The coalition conducted 12 airstrikes in the area with a variety of aircraft, including F-16 fighter jets and an AC-130 gunship, said Col. Michael Lawhorn, spokesman for Resolute Support, the military coalition’s operation in Afghanistan.
A medevac helicopter sent to recover McClintock and the two wounded Americans was grounded after a rotor blade struck a wall, military officials have said.
It took until Wednesday night for U.S. forces to recover the helicopter, Lawhorn said. An American quick-reaction team was on site in the interim.
Marjah was the scene of a major battle in 2010, when thousands of foreign troops poured into the collection of villages in what was billed by the Pentagon as a decisive blow to the Taliban and a model for counterinsurgency operations. The U.S.-led forces managed to take control of the area for a time, but Marjah and much of the rest of Helmand province steadily fell to the Taliban after international troops pulled out of the province in October 2014.
On Thursday, Lawhorn said American Special Forces troops were back in their “train, advise, and assist” role in Marjah and other parts of Helmand province. That means helping their Afghan counterparts with planning and going on missions with them, but stopping at the final “covered and concealed position” before the “mission objective,” often observing while the Afghans attack.
It was on a mission where Afghan troops planned to clear an area of insurgents that McClintock’s unit and their Afghan counterparts were fired upon, Lawhorn said.
“There is the likelihood they will come under fire, but they are not out there to seek out and fight Taliban,” he said of the American presence.
McClintock was part of a large operation to take back parts of Helmand province that had fallen to the Taliban. Hours after his death, Afghan troops were able to open the road between the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, and Marjah for the first time in two months, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Dawlat Waziri said. First, troops had to clear 40 buried bombs in a 5 1/2-mile stretch of road.
Waziri said that much of Marjah has since been cleared of insurgents but that operations were continuing.
Zubair Babakarkhail and Stars and Stripes reporter C.J. Lin contributed to this report.