Support our mission

VICENZA, Italy — It has been an emotionally exhausting few days for families of soldiers in the 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Vicenza.

Their sons and husbands deployed just weeks ago for Afghanistan and already have suffered a tragedy larger than any in the base’s recent history.

Four of the 18 people who died in a helicopter crash on Wednesday near Ghazni are believed to be Vicenza-based soldiers. They are officially listed as missing until positive identifications are made in the United States.

The death toll grew over the weekend after military officials found remains of two more military personnel at the site where the CH-47 Chinook went down. As of late Sunday, the Department of Defense had not released the names and units of any of the victims.

Army officials told the Vicenza community on Friday — through family support groups and the bases family support center — that next-of-kin had been notified. No news was good news, group leaders told wives.

But the delay meant tense moments for families on Wednesday night and all day Thursday. They only knew there had been a crash. Most soldiers in the 173rd Airborne Brigade had been out of contact with their families since the crash.

“That’s what breaks our hearts, not knowing,” said Rita Bonamego, who heads Vicenza’s family support center.

Concerned wives came to Bonamego Thursday seeking information that would allay their fears of the worst. Until Friday, Bonamego had nothing to tell them other than what she learned on the news, she said.

An Internet message board devoted to the 173rd Airborne Brigade was flooded with notes asking for information. Wives were worried. Mothers were sleepless.

Families asked anyone with information about which units were affected to write.

“Tom if you read this please call. Love, mom,” a woman wrote.

A woman calling herself “Red Devil Mom” reported that she had not slept all night Wednesday night.

“I should be used to this by now, but it doesn't work like that,” the woman wrote. “Prayer and Tylenol PM do help.”

Later on Thursday, message board readers got their first shock. Parents of a soldier based in Vicenza wrote that their son was one of the four missing. Notes of support came pouring in.

Still, others feared the unknown.

“We are desperate for news,” a mother wrote on Thursday. “Not knowing is harder than finding something out.”

On Friday morning the Internet site’s Webmaster wrote that all next of kin had been notified and that soldiers were under a “news blackout” and unable to call or use e-mail.

That message offered some relief to Maria Letrien, whose fiancé is a platoon leader in the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment (Airborne).

But since Letrien is not listed as a next-of-kin and had not been in touch with her fiancé’s parents, she still worried.

“While I am trusting God that he is okay, being reassured would help my nerves!” Letrien wrote Saturday under the pen name “Red Devil supporter B-Co.” The regiment’s nickname is the Red Devils.

On Sunday, family members wrote excited messages saying they had heard from their sons and husbands.

Letrien, who did not want to release her fiancé’s name, still waited.

Even when she gets assurance that her fiancé is OK, new concerns await Letrien, she said.

She knows that many days he takes two helicopter rides to get between camps.

“For me, it makes the year seem like it’s going to be a long year,” Letrien said.


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up