VICENZA, Italy — Staff Sgt. Michael Gabel and Cpl. Joshua Blaney touched many lives in their time at Caserma Ederle.
Mourners who gathered in the base chapel Wednesday couldn’t help but try touching back. In addition to traditional salutes and Roman Catholic signs of blessing, dozens of soldiers and civilians briefly latched onto a set of dog tags or placed a hand on one of the helmets in front of the two soldiers at the conclusion of a memorial ceremony.
Both soldiers, members of the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, were killed when their Humvee hit a roadside bomb in Paktika province in Afghanistan on Dec. 12.
Gabel’s primary role in Vicenza this year was getting soldiers ready to deploy to Afghanistan before he went downrange himself in September.
“His morning [physical training] sessions were nothing short of legendary,” said 1st Lt. Alexander Furlong, the battalion rear detachment commander, who remembered frequent jogs by Gabel and his soldiers working out.
“He’d call out, ‘You fire me up, sir.’ I knew he was only joking, because he didn’t need anyone to fire him up. It would make me smile, though. And I think I ran a little faster.”
Gabel was born in Baton Rouge, La., and attended the Louisiana Culinary Institute following high school. He spent two years in France further improving his cooking skills before deciding to enlist in the Army in 2000. He deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division and 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Capt. Joseph Curry called Gabel “a noble, righteous man who did what was right.”
Gabel had to overcome dyslexia growing up and didn’t speak until he was 6 years old. But he eventually learned to not only speak and read English, but French and Arabic as well.
The 30-year-old is survived by his parents, Cathy and John, and a brother, David.
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Stevan Horning said he remembered receiving some complaints from some soldiers in Gabel’s care that he was working them too hard.
Gabel’s response, Horning said, was a knowing nod.
“I want them to survive their experience in Afghanistan,” he had said.
Blaney had already survived deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan with the brigade. In fact, he received the Purple Heart after being wounded in a similar attack in Iraq on the same date four years earlier.
“He was always smiling and there was a sense of calm confidence about him,” said Staff Sgt. James Christy, who recently reviewed pictures he had taken of their trips to places such as Florence and Venice.
“In every picture, Josh had a smile on his face and so did everyone else around him,” Christy said.
The 25-year-old was born in North Carolina and lived in Matthews, a suburb of Charlotte. He was part of the brigade’s historic jump into northern Iraq in 2003 and also served during its first rotation in Afghanistan.
“Men like Cpl. Blaney are the heart and soul of the airborne community,” Furlong said.
Blaney is survived by his parents, Charles Blaney and Dianne Massey, and two sisters, Julie and Carley.
Both soldiers have been nominated to receive the Bronze Star Medal.