The body of a Pennsylvania airman who was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan is back home in the U.S.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin, of Hookstown in western Pennsylvania, was one of three service members who died Tuesday when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Ghazni province, an area where the Taliban is resurgent. It was the deadliest attack against U.S. forces in Afghanistan this year.
A highly decorated airman, 25-year-old Elchin had told his family he was preparing for a week-long mission. Aaron Elchin, his brother, Facetimed his brother the weekend after Thanksgiving, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"And I told him that I love him," said Mr. Elchin, 28, of Cincinnati. "And I didn't know that was going to be the last time I'd talk to him."
Sgt. Elchin had been embedded with a U.S. Army Special Operations Force Operational Detachment-Alpha team, and his role included advising the Ground Force commander, directing close air support aircraft, and delivering destructive ordinance on enemy targets in support of offensive operations, the Air Force said.
As a special tactics combat controller, Sgt. Elchin was trained for immediate deployment into combat operations such as precision strike and personnel recovery, according to the Air Force. He was skilled in reconnaissance operations, air traffic control and terminal attack control operations.
"Dylan had an unusual drive to succeed and contribute to the team. He displayed maturity and stoicism beyond his years, and was always level-headed, no matter the situation," Lt. Col. Gregory Walsh, 26th STS commander, said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Dylan's family, fiancé and friends. He will be sorely missed, but never forgotten."
Sgt. Elchin's awards and decorations included the Bronze Star Medal for heroic or meritorious service in a combat zone, a Purple Heart for suffering a wound, the Army Commendation Medal with Valor and the Air Force Commendation Medal, among many others.
Mr. Elchin said his brother always had an interest in serving, and may have been inspired by his grandfather and other family members who were in the military.
"By the time he was a teenager he was reading up on it, and he was in the Boy Scouts prior to that," Mr. Elchin said. "He's just always had that mentality that that was something he was going to do."
Sgt. Elchin had a variety of interests, according to his brother. He liked to build, and participated in his school's shop program. He was a horn player in the high school band. He is remembered by school officials, the Post-Gazette reports, as being reserved and friendly, "a young man with a kind heart, who was studious, curious about life, and loved his family."
Sgt. Elchin planned on marrying Jordan Stigers after he returned to the United States in late January or early February. They had met while he was training in Las Vegas, where she is from, according to Mr. Elchin. He said the couple wanted to get married in Tahiti then return to the U.S. for another celebration.
The family is still coming to terms with the loss of someone who had so much ahead of him.
"We're all basically waiting to wake up," Mr. Elchin said to the Post-Gazette. "We feel like we're in a giant fog, and we just don't want to believe it."
His son was brought back to the U.S. early Friday, with a dignified transfer happening at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Vice President Mike Pence was among those in attendance.
The airman's grandfather, Ron Bogolea, told The Beaver County Times that the family is arranging a public memorial service to give friends and other family a chance to pay their respects. Elchin will eventually be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014, but still provide close support to Afghan forces and carry out counter-terrorism operations. Some 15,000 American forces are currently serving in Afghanistan.