BEYOND THE COAST
Spc. Dennis Weichel, 29, of the Rhode Island National Guard died in Afghanistan last week with what the Pentagon news release said was “due to injuries received in a noncombat related incident.”
I did not know Spc. Dennis Weichel. I do not know his family or the three young children he left behind. However, I decided to write this piece about him because I think he is an American hero who embodied everything our country stands for and more.
In the aftermath of the incident where a US Army Sergeant allegedly massacred nine Afghan men, women and children I thought it was important for me to tell our readers that “murdering helpless women and children is not what we as Americans stand for, and that is not why we are in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere around the world.” We are a country of good people who do good deeds around the world without asking for anything in return despite what some among us want you and others around the world to believe.
Spc. Weichel died while trying to save the life of a nine year old Afghani girl he did not know. He was traveling in a convoy a week ago with his unit in Laghman Province in northeast Afghanistan. He noticed that a number of young children were collecting brass shell casings in the middle of the road and in the path of his unit’s 16 ton MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected) vehicle. The children in Afghanistan collect these brass shell casings and sell them to civilians to make just enough money to buy meager amounts of food for their impoverished families.
Spc. Weichel and some other troops jumped out of the vehicle to get the kids out of the road. They all moved out but one little girl, oblivious to the danger awaiting her went back to the road to collect a few more casings.
Weichel saw the massive truck bearing down on the little girl, ran and grabbed her, out of the way. But in the process, the armored truck ran him over. The little girl was fine but Spc. Weichel later died of his injuries.
This story of unselfish act of bravery was lost among all the other negative news of the massacre of the 16 Afghanis. Flags were flown at half-mast in Rhode Island and Weichel was posthumously promoted to the rank of Sergeant and his family will be awarded a Bronze Star among other awards for his bravery.
The little girl whose life Weichel saved will more than likely live on in one of the poorest countries in the world for many years to come. On the other hand, Weichel’s three children will have to live and cope with life without their father in undeniably the best country in the world.
I wondered if Spc. Weichel sacrificed his life to save the little girl’s life because he was thinking of his own children. Or was he thinking forward about the horrible situation this incident would end up causing for his unit and in a larger sense for his country? We will never know the answer.
In my own way, I wanted to honor this American hero by asking everyone who reads this story to keep him and his family in their thoughts and prayers on Easter Sunday.
As Wilfred Owen, recognized as the greatest English poet of the First World War wrote in his famous poem: “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – It is a wonderful and great honor to fight and die for your country.”
I salute you, Spc. Weichel.
Tarik Ayasun is a member of Vice Chair of the Code Enforcement Board and President of the Marco Island Charter Middle School Board of Directors, he has given many years of community service to various organizations.