3 soldiers killed in Afghanistan, deaths under investigation

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Sgt. Eric M. Houck was a dedicated soldier, a proud father of two and was several months into his first overseas deployment when he was killed in Afghanistan with two fellow soldiers, his father says.

Houck, 25, was to have returned home next month. He died along with two fellow members of the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell, an Army post on the Kentucky-Tennessee line.

The sergeant from Baltimore was killed Saturday in Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province along with Sgt. William M. Bays, 29, of Barstow, California, and Cpl. Dillon C. Baldridge, 22, of Youngsville, North Carolina, authorities said.

The Department of Defense said in a statement Monday that the soldiers died of wounds received while supporting a military operation called Freedom's Sentinel. But it didn't elaborate, saying the deaths remain under investigation and no other details were being released at this time.

"Today, as we grieve, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Cpl. Baldridge, Sgt. Houck and Sgt. Bays. We take this as a family loss," said Maj. Gen. Andrew Poppas, Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division and Fort Campbell. "In the days ahead, the 101st Soldiers ... will continue the fight against terrorism with unbridled determination."

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer spoke about the deaths at his regular press briefing Monday.

"I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the three service members that were killed this weekend in Afghanistan. The incident is currently under investigation, but our thoughts and our prayers are with the families of these American heroes who've lost their lives in this tragic event," Spicer told reporters.

Houck enlisted a few years after graduating from high school in the Baltimore suburbs. He had married his high school sweetheart and found in military duty a way to support his growing family and serve his country, his father said. The soldier leaves behind two young children.

"He was a husband and father first," said his father, Mike Houck. "He was a son and brother, and then he was a soldier. His family was the most important thing to him." He also loved playing soccer, football and baseball.

Mike Houck said he was nervous when he learned his only son would be heading overseas.

"If he was nervous, he didn't let on," Houck added. "He took it bravely, as his responsibility as a soldier. He was unwavering in his dedication to that. But as a parent you're nervous every day."

Houck began his military career as a private and rose to the rank of sergeant in just three years, his father said. He added that his son would travel in forward positions with the infantry and was responsible for directing airstrikes.

"He was exemplary," Houck said. "He was a hell of a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a soldier."

In North Carolina, WRAL-TV reported that the principal of Franklinton High School said many were saddened there by the death of Baldridge. A 2012 graduate of that school, he had gone to Afghanistan last October and was due to return in August, relatives told the station.

"Those that knew Dillon well remember him as a distinguished alumni of the class of 2012, who was a kindhearted and possessed a truly giving personality," Franklinton High School Principal Russell Holloman said in a statement. "He made an early commitment to the military during his high school career and maintained that focus and selfless dedication after graduation."

There was no immediate information about Barstow, the third soldier who died.


Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in Washington and Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.