The two soldiers killed when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan were paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, the defense department announced Sunday.
The IED attack took place Saturday in Afghanistan's Kandahar province, bordering Pakistan to the south. Killed in the blast were Staff Sgt. Ian P. McLaughlin, 29, of Newport News, Virginia; and Pfc. Miguel A. Villalon, 21, of Joliet, Illinois, according to a release.
Both soldiers were attached to 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
"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 released statement. "Their loved ones are now surrounded by a caring community offering comfort and assistance through this difficult time."
McLaughlin, who joined the Army in 2012, was assigned to his current unit in 2016. He served there first as a horizontal construction engineer and then as a squad leader, according to officials with the 82nd Airborne. His awards included the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal with "C" Device, the Army Commendation Medal and the Army Achievement Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters signifying subsequent awards.
He was on his first combat deployment.
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 McLaughlin's first combat deployment; he is survived by a wife and four children, officials said.
Villalon, who joined the Army in 2018 and was assigned to his current unit the following year, was also on his first combat deployment. His awards the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal with "C" Device and the Army Achievement Medal.
He is survived by his mother and father.
"These paratroopers represent the very best of our Nation and our Army," Maj. Gen. James Mingus, 82nd Airborne Division's commander, said in a statement. "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."
The two soldiers are the first to be killed in action in Afghanistan in 2020. The war is now in its 19th year.
Two other soldiers, who have not been identified, were wounded in the same blast. The tragic attack comes as the Taliban and the U.S. are reportedly at a crucial stage in ongoing peace talks. It's not yet clear what the immediate impact of the deadly incident will be on negotiations.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.