The deadliest month of the Afghanistan war ended with the deaths of three Fort Lewis soldiers.
The military confirmed Wednesday that Spc. Tyler R. Walshe-Vietti of Shasta, Calif., and Spc. Jonathan D. Welch of Yorba Linda, Calif., died when a bomb exploded during a dismounted patrol Monday in Shuyene Sufia, Afghanistan.
As reported Tuesday, Pfc. Jordan Brochu of Oakland, Maine, was also killed in that attack. Family members said the three were killed by the same blast.
The three served in 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment. All nine of the brigade’s fatalities since it deployed in July have been soldiers from the battalion.
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The deaths all came within two weeks of each other.
Forty-nine U.S. service members were killed in August, many during an increased offensive in the country’s south, the birthplace of the Taliban.
A Marine force is fighting in Helmand province, and 5th Stryker Brigade has deployed throughout parts of Kandahar and Zabul provinces.
The attack pushes to 326 the number of service members with Washington ties – either from the state or stationed at one of its military installations – who have died in American military operations since 2001.
The news of Brochu’s death spread to the office of Maine Gov. John Baldacci, who essentially broke the news Tuesday of the soldier’s death. The Pentagon confirmed the deaths of Welch and Walshe-Vietti on Wednesday.
Brochu transferred to Lake Region High School in Naples, Maine, for his senior year but quickly made friends and fit in, his former guidance counselor told The News Tribune on Wednesday.
He played football and track and field, but what Nancy McClean most remembers is Brochu’s way of expressing his feelings: poetry.
“It was very real,” she said. “He was very, very good and expressing life, expressing hope.”
Brochu’s MySpace profile – apparently last updated before February, when the Pentagon changed the brigade’s orders from Iraq to Afghanistan – hints at a rough upbringing. When asked to list his heroes, he lists himself.
“My life has been hell and no one thought or cared if I would make it and I’m still (here) and for once my head is held high,” he wrote.
“I joined (the Army) to help make a difference and to grow me up,” the Fort Lewis soldier wrote. “I don’t believe in violence, but in some cases it is necessary.”
Lake Region High School serves four rural towns and had an enrollment of about 680 when Brochu graduated in 2007. Brochu, who had moved to the area the summer before his senior year, was enrolled in the school’s culinary-arts vocational program.
He and McClean talked about his future in college, but the guidance counselor remembers that Brochu didn’t feel ready.
The Army beckoned, as it does for many at his high school.
“He saw it as a way to do good,” McClean said. “It was a way to prepare for the world.”
A friend of Welch best remembers him for his love of punk music. Samantha Grillo said the 19-year-old soldier was a regular at the Seattle punk music scene, making the trip from his on-post housing every weekend.
Welch joined the Army in March 2007 and reported to Fort Lewis that October. Grillo said he enlisted to make a better life for himself. She remembers him as “really funny and very charismatic.”
Walshe-Vietti’s wife, Kirsten, was at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Wednesday to watch the transfer of her husband’s remains.
“He was the most amazing person I ever could have asked for,” she said.
The two have a daughter, Karsyn. Kirsten pointed out that her daughter’s first birthday will be on Nov. 11 – Veterans Day.
“I just can’t believe he’s gone,” she said. “I’m trying really, really hard to keep it together and to stay strong for my daughter. She doesn’t understand that daddy’s gone.”
Scott Fontaine: 253-320-4758