Vicenza community devastated by deaths in Afghanistan

By SANDRA JONTZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 18, 2008

VICENZA, Italy — Vicenza paused Thursday from plans of welcome home parties to prepare for a memorial service.

“We’re more than devastated. We were all in the mode of everyone coming home,” Brianna Baummer said Thursday of the Vicenza community after learning that nine U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan hailed from their own close-knit community.

On Sunday, militants stormed a small outpost in Wanat, Afghanistan, killing the nine soldiers and wounding 15 others — the deadliest attack on U.S. troops in Afghanistan in the last three years. Twelve of the wounded Thursday were recuperating at the U.S.

Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.

The soldiers — of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team — were just a few weeks from returning to Vicenza after 15 months in Afghanistan.

Soon, they would have been arriving home to throngs of well-wishers, waving flags and hand-crafted banners.

That’s how it should have been, said Melissa Bourgeois, who along with Baummer, welcomed home their husbands a week ago.

“We’re definitely in a state of shock,” Bourgeois said. “After all, we are all so happy to have our husbands back. And then this. Our husbands are back, but people are still dying. It’s definitely a reality check that this is not over yet.”

The memorial service was planned for 2 p.m. Friday at the base chapel.

The community is reeling, said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Stevan Horning.

“The main impact is one of complexity, of mixed emotions,” said Horning, the brigade chaplain for the rear detachment. “Some people are feeling jubilations and apprehension. Not all of our soldiers are home, and some are still there fighting their way out.”

For security reasons, officials won’t say exactly how long the soldiers of Company C, “Chosen Company,” had before returning to Italy. Coming home, however, was mere weeks away, said Capt. Matthew Heimerle, a rear detachment commander.

“It almost seems surreal,” he said. “The number involved in this incident is not like anything we’ve experienced before.”

On Tuesday, Heimerle visited with the wounded soldiers in Landstuhl. All are expected to physically recover, he said. They still are having a difficult time dealing with the events that happened in Wanat, and especially with the high number of wounded and killed, he said.

“Eventually, the time will come for them to mourn,” Heimerle said.

None of the 12 wounded are in the hospital’s intensive care unit, said Marie Shaw, hospital spokeswoman. Some of the wounded are able to walk around, and others underwent surgery Thursday, Shaw said.

The brigade has lost 42 Sky Soldiers in the fighting in Afghanistan, and the 2nd Battalion itself will have to etch the names of 24 soldiers in the fallen warrior wall on Casemera Ederle.

Heimerle tells his soldiers not to forget the fallen.

“Remember what they have taught you, the impacts they made on you,” he said as if speaking to one of his soldiers. “It’s OK to be sad. Show your sorrow. It’s a natural reaction.”

1st Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom

Cpl. Jonathan R. Ayers

Cpl. Jason D. Hovater

Cpl. Matthew B. Phillips

Cpl. Pruitt A. Rainey

Cpl. Gunnar W. Zwilling

Spc. Sergio S. Abad

Cpl. Jason M. Bogar

Sgt. Israel Garcia

Life must go on, say spouses of one Family Readiness Group who Thursday, hosted their regularly-scheduled fundraiser barbecue at Caserma Ederle. The Vicenza community is devastated by the loss of nine of its soldiers and the wounding of 12 others on Sunday in Afghanistan.

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