By Larry Shaughnessy
After the news of a U.S. soldier charged with murdering Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, the story of Spc. Dennis Weichel of the Rhode Island National Guard bears telling.
The official Pentagon news release says he died "from injuries suffered in a noncombat related incident." But there is much more to the story. Weichel, 29, of Providence, died saving the life of a little girl.
According to the Rhode Island National Guard and the U.S. Army, Weichel was in a convoy a week ago with his unit in Laghman Province, in northeast Afghanistan. Some children were in the road in front of the convoy, and Weichel and other troops got out to move them out of the way.
Most of the children moved, but one little girl went back to pick up some brass shell casings in the road. Afghan civilians often recycle the casings, and the girl appeared to aim to do that. But a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle was moving toward her, according to Lt. Col. Denis Riel of the Rhode Island National Guard.
MRAPs, as they are known, usually weigh more than 16 tons.
Weichel saw the massive truck bearing down on the girl and grabbed her out of the way. But in the process, the armored truck ran him over, Riel said.
The little girl is fine. Weichel died a short time later of his injuries.
"He was a big kid at heart. He always had a smile on his face, and he made everyone laugh," 1st Sgt. Nicky Peppe, who served with Weichel in Iraq, is quoted as saying in an Army story.
"But as much as Weichel was funny, he was also a professional. When it was time to go outside the wire for a combat patrol, he was all business."
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee has ordered flags in the state lowered to half-staff until Weichel, who was posthumously promoted to sergeant, is laid to rest Monday.
Weichel is survived by his parents, his fiancee and three children. His family will be awarded a Bronze Star and other awards for his sacrifice.