12 April 2011

Iowa Red Bull Soldier Killed in Paktiya Province

Spc. Brent M. Maher, 31, of Honey Creek, Iowa, was killed while on a routine mounted combat patrol in Eastern Afghanistan's Paktiya Province Mon., April 11. His death was announced by Iowa National Guard officials at a 9 p.m. Tuesday press conference at Camp Dodge, Johnston.

The 32,000-pound "Cougar" mine-resistant vehicle was reportedly rolled over by what Iowa guard spokesman Col. Gregory Hapgood described as a "sizeable" Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.). Maher had been seated in the gunner's position--most likely manning a machine gun in a small, lightly armored cupola located atop the vehicle--when the bomb detonated under the vehicle.

The task of gunner is commonly regarded as one of the more dangerous positions on a mounted patrol. "It takes an amazing amount of personal courage to be willing to get up there and do that gunner job everyday," said Hapgood. "You look at Spc. Maher--just a remarkable young man, well-trained, loved what he did, loved his country, and loved his family. Despite the risks, he was willing to do that, every day."

Also wounded in the attack were:
  • Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Jedlicka, 31, of Council Bluffs.
  • Spc. Justin Christiansen, 24, of Nebraska City, Neb.
  • Spc. Dustin Morrison, 20, of New Market, Iowa.
Medical statuses of the wounded soldiers were not available at the conference. All four soldiers were assigned to the Iowa Army National Guard's Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 168 Infantry Regiment (1-168th Inf.). The company is headquartered in Shenandoah.

Maher's former squad leader, Staff. Sgt. Anthony Karr, described Maher as a shirt-off-his-back, go-to soldier. "I would always go to him, because he would get the job done," Karr said at the press conference. Before joining the Iowa Army National Guard as an infantry soldier, Maher had previously served in the U.S. Navy for a total military career of 11 years. During Maher's mid-tour leave from Afghanistan, Karr said, Maher had voluntarily traveled to the Shenandoah armory to take a physical fitness test, working toward a promotion.

Maher will be posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant, Iowa guard officials said. Maher is the 20th combat death of an Iowa National Guard member since 2003.

In his civilian life, Maher was a 1998 graduate of Farragut (Iowa) High School, and had attended Metropolitan Community College, Omaha. He was employed by Woodhouse Auto Family, Omaha. He is survived by his wife Brenna M. Maher, Honey Creek; daughters Elizabeth and Hannah Rose, and son, Matthew Douglas, 8. Through the Iowa National Guard, the family issued a statement asking for privacy while it prepares to receive Maher's body:
We are proud of Brent's accomplishments and those of his fellow Iowa National Guard soldiers and all of the military serving our country. We are forever grateful to the United States military for providing Brent with the opportunities he has experienced for the past 11 years. Brent was making a difference in the lives of the Afghan people, and was proud of it. As shocked as we are by his death, we are deeply appreciative of the outpouring of support shown by his fellow soldiers, his family, his friends, and the community during this difficult time.
Hapgood also expressed empathy for Maher's fellow soldiers. "Losing one soldier is one too many," he said. "It's difficult to lose a buddy and then go back to work the next day."

The 1-168th Inf. is part of the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) deployment to Afghanistan. The 600-soldier battalion arrived in Paktiya Province in November 2010, and currently operates under "Task Force Duke," which is organized around the active-duty Army's 3rd BCT, 1st Infantry Division (3-1st BCT). Operating as "Task Force Lethal," the 1-168th Inf. mission is to assist the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and its national security forces to improve conditions toward security, governance, and development in the province.

A portion of Paktiya borders the country of Pakistan, and the area is not contiguous with other provinces for which the 2-34th BCT's "Task Force Red Bulls" is responsible.

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