WASHINGTON — A Rhode Island guardsman who died saving a young Afghan girl is being hailed as a hero by his fellow soldiers and officials back home.

Sgt. Dennis Weichel Jr., 29, died March 22 after being struck by an armored vehicle in Laghman province. Army officials said the accident occurred when the child ran into the path of the vehicle to retrieve an item, and Weichel rushed to push her out of the way.

The child was not hit, but Weichel died of his injuries later that day.

Army officials called his actions the epitome of selfless service and sacrifice. U.S. and state flags in Rhode Island will be flown at half-staff until the guardsman’s funeral on Sunday.

Weichel, who deployed to Afghanistan just a few weeks ago, was posthumously promoted from specialist to sergeant and awarded the Bronze Star. He had been serving with the 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment, 56th Troop Command.

In an Army press release, Weichel’s colleagues said his death reflected his character.

“He would have done it for anybody,” said said Staff Sgt. Ronald Corbett, who deployed with him to Iraq in 2005. “He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He was that type of guy.”

Weichel’s story spread rapidly over social media networks Wednesday night after details of his death were released. Many contrasted his story with the recent killings of at least 17 Afghans allegedly at the hands of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, lamenting that Weichel’s heroism likely would not receive the same international attention.

Weichel’s body is scheduled to return to Rhode Island this weekend, according to details on a Facebook page run by his family.

Since his death, friends and family have used the page to share photos of the fallen soldier and offer condolences to his fiancé and parents. On Thursday, his three children offered up a message of their own.

“We are so proud of our daddy,” they wrote. “We love and miss you. Daddy you are our hero.”

Twitter: @LeoShane

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