Military officials identified the two U.S. service members supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel who were killed Saturday after an improvised explosive device (IED) hit their vehicle in southern Afghanistan.
The Pentagon announced in a statement that the two soldiers killed were 29-year-old Staff Sgt. Ian P. McLaughlin of Newport News, Virginia; and 21-year-old Pfc. Miguel A. Villalon of Joliet, Illinois.
Both soldiers were conducting operations as part of NATO's Resolute Support Mission.
“When our nation called for its best airborne combat engineers to deploy into harm’s way, Staff Sgt. McLaughlin and Pfc. Villalon answered without hesitation. They lived their motto, ‘Essayons,’ and embodied the values of the All-American engineer,” Col. Art Sellers, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, said in a statement. “Their loved ones are now surrounded by a caring community offering comfort and assistance through this difficult time.”
Maj. Gen. James Mingus, the 82nd Airborne Division Commander, added in a statement, “These paratroopers represent the very best of our nation and our army. Three-time volunteers, they went when our nation called and paid the ultimate sacrifice. They will be honored, mourned, but never forgotten and we are committed to taking care of their families for life.”
McLaughlin joined the Army in 2012 and after completing Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training, he was assigned to the 68th Engineer Company, 62nd Engineer Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas, as a horizontal construction engineer. In 2016, he was assigned to the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he served as a horizontal construction engineer and later as a squad leader. This was his first combat deployment.
McLaughlin’s awards and decorations included the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with “C” Device, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Good Conduct Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Combat Action Badge and the Basic Parachutist Badge. He was a 2018 graduate of the U.S. Army Advanced Airborne School Jumpmaster Course.
McLaughlin was survived by his wife and four children.
Villalon joined the Army in 2018 and after completing Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training in 2019 at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., he was assigned to the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg where he served as a combat engineer. This was his first combat deployment.
Villalon’s awards and decorations included the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal with “C” Device, the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal and the Combat Action Badge.
Villalon was survived by his parents.
The Taliban took responsibility for Saturday’s attack, which injured two other American soldiers. A Taliban spokesman said it occurred in the southern Kandahar province.
The Taliban have controlled or held sway over roughly half of Afghanistan. The militants have continued to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, even as they’ve held peace talks with the U.S.
Scores of Afghan civilians also have been killed in the crossfire or by roadside bombs planted by militants.
The U.S. and Taliban, whose government had harbored Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden, have been in on-again, off-again negotiations to bring an end to 18 years of fighting, said to be the longest war in American history.
Over 2,400 U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan. Last year, 23 American troops were killed.
The U.S. has had about 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, with about 5,000 of them doing counterterrorism missions. The have been part of a broader NATO mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.