Mideast edition, Wednesday, July 18, 2007

BÖBLINGEN, Germany — The last time Sonja Mitchell was the center of so much attention, she told the packed church, was when she walked down an aisle wearing a white gown.

She was happy then, because her husband-to- be, Sean Mitchell, was waiting for her.

But Tuesday she wore a black dress as she stepped to the lectern at Patch Memorial Chapel, and cried at times as she spoke.

“I hope and pray that other wives won’t have to go through this,” Sonja said during a service for Sgt. 1st Class Sean Mitchell of 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne). He died July 7 from injuries received during a sand and windstorm in Kidal, Mali. He was 35.

Sonja Mitchell was accompanied to the church by, among others, the couple’s 3-month-old son, Cameron. She said Sean spoke to the infant by speakerphone while on assignment in Mali, so he could hear his daddy’s voice.

“Sean will keep on living in him, and I will raise him to the best of my ability,” Sonja Mitchell said. “His baby boy has no father now; this is what is killing me the most.”

The chapel was filled with about 300 people seated in the pews and an additional 100 standing in the side aisles and the back. Most wore green Army Class A dress uniforms. Some inside the very warm church fanned themselves with their programs.

Mitchell’s picture was projected onto a big screen that hung above the altar.

On it, he wore the stern look of a soldier. Sonja, according to one of the presenters, had to be told that a servicemember doesn’t smile for military pictures.

But he was smiling in just about every photo shown during a five-minute slideshow that was played to the Creed song, “My Sacrifice.” Smiling when he was shown holding his bride, and while holding his baby, while deployed with his team in Afghanistan and while in some back yard, just goofing off.

One friend recalled first meeting the “big, tall, nerdy-looking guy with tattoos everywhere. And he drives a truck while listening to techno?”

Mitchell quickly fit in, however, in part because of an attitude embodied by the flag and eagle tattooed on his large forearm.

“He was a patriot, and you knew where he stood,” the soldier said.

Mitchell is also survived by his mother, Joan Mitchell, of Monterey, Calif., and his father, Steven Mitchell.

Four others were injured in the storm. Staff Sgts. Devin Pankow and Andrew Scogna were sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington for treatment, while Warrant Officer 1 Doug Vose and Spc. Martin Busch were treated and released, according to Marie Shaw, a spokeswoman at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

The injuries and death resulted when severe high winds propelled the soldiers’ base tents several meters.

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