Specialist Sergio S. Abad – July 2009 Shipment Honoree
21, of Morganfield, Ky.; assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Vicenza, Italy; died July 13 of wounds sustained when his outpost was attacked by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades from enemy forces in Wanat, Afghanistan. Also killed were 1st Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom, Sgt. Israel Garcia, Cpl. Jonathan R. Ayers, Cpl. Jason D. Hovater, Cpl. Jason M. Bogar, Cpl. Matthew B. Phillips, Cpl. Pruitt A. Rainey and Cpl. Gunnar W. Zwilling.
Hard-hit C Company suffers another agonizing blow
By Michelle Tan
More than 200 enemy fighters swarmed a small, remote combat outpost near the village of Wanat, near the country’s porous border with Pakistan.
They brought with them machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. The U.S. and coalition soldiers were outnumbered by at least 2 to 1.
The battle was fierce. Enemy fighters fought their way onto the newly established base known as Combat Outpost Kahler. The Americans and Afghans, numbering fewer than 100, fought back, defending their post and calling in airstrikes.
When the fighting stopped, the enemy had suffered heavy casualties, with reports of more than 100 killed or wounded.
But the Americans had suffered, too.
Nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 15 others were wounded. Apart from helicopter crashes, the bloody July 13 battle inflicted the deepest wound on a single U.S. battalion of any attack since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan almost seven years ago.
The soldiers, from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, of Vicenza, Italy, were supposed to be coming home soon. The brigade deployed to Afghanistan in June 2007 and about 680 soldiers are already home in Vicenza, with the last of the soldiers expected home by the first week of August.
But this final attack on the battalion’s C Company soldiers would make it the hardest-hit company to have served in Operation Enduring Freedom. The company has lost 15 men since deploying to Afghanistan, the most for one Army company in both operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. In total, 24 men from the battalion have been killed during this deployment.
After the fierce combat that 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry endured in the past 15 months, several of its soldiers earned valor awards including the Silver Star, the third highest award for valor, and the Bronze Star with V device, said Maj. Nicholas Sternberg, spokesman for the 173rd.
Specific information on the awards was not available at press time.
The nine soldiers killed July 13 brought to 42 the number of soldiers from the 173rd killed during this deployment. Since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through July 16, nine soldiers from the 173rd have been killed in Iraq, 58 in Afghanistan.
The men killed July 13, all of them from C Company, are:
• 1st Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom, 24, of Hawaii. Brostrom, who led the company’s 2nd Platoon, was a ROTC graduate from the University of Hawaii. He received his commission in June 2006 and arrived at the 173rd in June 2007.
• Sgt. Israel Garcia, 24, of Long Beach, Calif. Garcia had been in the Army since October 2002. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Fort Bragg, N.C., before reporting to the 173rd in July 2006.
• Cpl. Jonathan R. Ayers, 24, of Snellville, Ga. Ayers joined the Army in April 2006 and went straight from basic and advanced individual training at Fort Benning, Ga., to the 173rd, where he had been assigned since September 2006.
• Cpl. Jason M. Bogar, 25, of Seattle. Bogar deployed twice with the National Guard before coming into the active Army in October 2007, and he had been with the 173rd since November 2007.
• Cpl. Jason D. Hovater, 24, of Clinton, Tenn. Hovater joined the Army in February 2006. His first assignment after initial entry training at Fort Benning was the 173rd. He had been with the unit since July 2006.
• Cpl. Matthew B. Phillips, 27, of Jasper, Ga. Phillips joined the Army in November 2005. The 173rd was his first assignment; he arrived at the unit in May 2006.
• Cpl. Pruitt A. Rainey, 22, of Haw River, N.C. Rainey joined the Army in August 2005. He arrived at the 173rd, his first assignment, in February 2006.
• Cpl. Gunnar W. Zwilling, 20, of Florissant, Mo. Zwilling had been in the Army since February 2006. After basic training, AIT and airborne training at Fort Benning, he reported to the 173rd in July 2006.
• Spc. Sergio S. Abad, 21, of Morganfield, Ky. Abad joined the Army in January 2006. His first unit of assignment was the 173rd, where he had been since August 2006.
Previously, the single deadliest incident to claim multiple U.S. lives in Afghanistan, excluding helicopter crashes, was Jan. 29, 2004, when a weapons cache explosion in Ghazni killed eight soldiers.
A memorial service for the nine C Company soldiers on July 18 in Vicenza drew an overflow crowd that included many of the 680 soldiers who had just returned from Afghanistan, said Sgt. Maj. Kimberly Williams, a spokeswoman for Southern European Task Force. Officials estimate about 900 people participated, including about 500 who crowded into the theater on post because the chapel was full.
“This was an especially emotional ceremony,” she said, “because [in attendance were soldiers who had just returned.”
Ky. soldier among 9 killed in Afghan base attackThe Associated Press
The Defense Department said Pfc. Sergio S. Abad, 21, of Morganfield, died Sunday in the deadliest incident for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since June 2005, when 16 American soldiers were killed as a rocket-propelled grenade shot down their helicopter.
The soldiers died from wounds suffered when their newly built outpost in Wanat was attacked before dawn by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
They were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Vicenza, Italy.
A former provincial governor in the region said scores of attackers included a mix of Afghan- and Pakistan-based militants, some with al-Qaida links.
A NATO official said they used houses, shops and a mosque for cover during the hours-long battle before American soldiers managed to drive out the attackers and call in air support from attack helicopters. The official said dozens were killed and about 40 were wounded.
Miami Herald 19 July 2008:
Private First Class Sergio S. Abad planned to be married on August 24, 2008, at the South Miami Elks Club — an Oriental-themed affair certain to feature music by the 21-year-old soldier’s favorite singer: Frank Sinatra.
Instead, he’ll be buried next week at Arlington National Cemetery, as an Army bugler plays taps.
Abad died July 13, 2008, in a firefight that killed nine soldiers at Wanat, a remote base in eastern Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
He had been scheduled to head home the next day.
waiting his return: His fiancée, Christina Parra, and a huge extended family — a family not bound by blood but by the love of a young man who had adopted them.
Abad was a bright, funny, hyperactive 7-year-old when the Florida Department of Children & Families removed him from an abusive home and placed him with a relative.
By middle school, he had been absorbed into two unrelated households: the Popkos of Coral Gables and the Pittses of Riviera Estates, each with children his age.
Through him, the families became what Marilyn Popko calls “a kinship group.”
Abad called Marilyn Popko and Lori Pitts ”Mommy,” their husbands ”Dad,” and his high school ROTC mentor, CSM Oliver R. Hoggard, “Pops.”
He’d stay awhile with one family, then with the other, though sometimes he would withdraw and camp out in Tropical Park.
”He was one of the kids,” said Lori Pitts, whose daughter, Krystine Pitts Flagg, befriended Abad at Homestead Middle School.
Pitts’ husband, Coral Gables police Lieutenant Paul Pitts, “would throw him $20 to go to the movies. He had chores around the house. He had to help out with laundry and feed the dog.”
Abad ”absorbed love like a sponge,” Pitts said. “He never wanted to disappoint us.”
Clinical psychologist Stephen Popko said he and Paul Pitts ”set down the rules firmly,” giving Abad the structure he craved.
He attended South Miami High School with the class of 2003, then earned a GED at the Job Corps center in Morganfield, Kentucky.
The Army mistakenly listed Morganfield as his hometown in the news release announcing his death.
Toward the end of high school, Abad moved in with Marilyn Popko’s sister’s family on a five-acre horse farm in the Redland — ideal for a youngster who loved animals and hard work.
Marybeth Klock-Perez, her sister, and husband Diego Perez, run Better Families Though Tae Kwan Do, a Bird Road martial-arts studio. Abad excelled at karate. He had a lot of energy and a knack for teaching children.
”He was really athletic and could knock out hundreds of push-ups with no problem,” Marybeth said. “He always had something positive or funny or naughty to contribute.”
For a youngster who had ”been dealt really unfair cards in life, he was absolutely never bitter,” Klock-Perez said. “He never used excuses or acted like the world owed him.”
At school, Abad developed a passion for acting, directing and Junior ROTC, where he found another father figure: Hoggard, who ran the program.
Retired from the Army, Hoggard is now working for a defense contractor in Iraq.
Colonel Eddie Santana took over the ROTC program shortly before Abad left but remembers him as “an outstanding young leader — very disciplined and committed. He always knew what he wanted to do: join the Army.”
A 2003 Miami Herald story described Abad climbing a 45-foot fire tower during a summer ROTC boot camp:
“Abad practically flew up the 50 steps to get to the top of the tower. . . . About 10 seconds later, Sergio was back on the ground. He took a swig of water and got in line for the next rappel.”
He told the reporter: “You gotta die some day, right? You cannot compare this experience to anything else in the world.”
After completing the Job Corps program, Abad entered basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was then stationed in Vicenza, Italy, for a year.
”It was one of the best times he ever had,” Marilyn Popko said. ”He went to Germany, Switzerland, France. And he loved jumping out of airplanes. He came home after a year for a month, then went to the Agham Korengal Valley,” a Taliban stronghold in northeastern Afghanistan on the Pakistani border.
He was apprehensive about combat, Stephen Popko said. “He knew from the beginning that he might not come home, but this was his thing. It was high energy, and he was going to make it. . . . He was sent on classified missions.”
After a month’s leave in March, Abad deployed to Camp Blessing, an eastern Afghan base. By July 13, he and his comrades had gone to Wanat, a new forward-operating base in Kunar province that Stars & Stripes, the Army newspaper, says is the size of a football field.
At 4:30 a.m., a rocket-propelled grenade landed in the base’s mortar pit, the opening salvo of a two-hour battle that proved the deadliest for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since 2005.
Abad’s loved ones say he was hit in the femoral artery.
”This was not a haphazard attack,” Stars & Stripes opined. Some 200 insurgents “fought from several positions. They aimed to overrun the new base. The U.S. soldiers knew it and fought like hell.”
A wounded survivor told the newspaper: “It was some of the bravest stuff I’ve ever seen in my life, and I will never see it again because … normal humans wouldn’t do that. You’re not supposed to do that — getting up and firing back when everything around you is popping and whizzing and trees, branches coming down and sandbags exploding and RPGs coming in over your head — It was a fistfight then, and those guys held ’em off.”
Abad would have become a father in December. He died not knowing his child is a girl.
Fiancée Christina Parra plans to give her the name that Abad chose: Lorelai Rocio Abad — after Lori Pitts and Christina’s mother.
He wanted a daughter, said Krystine Flagg.
“He wanted to give her the life he never had. A mother and father who stayed together.”
Other survivors include ”siblings” Katheryn, Zachery and Leo Pitts, and Catherine Popko.
26 July 2008:
Courtesy of NBC-6 (South Florida)
A South Florida soldier, and father-to-be, was killed in a firefight with Taliban forces in Afghanistan — one day before he was to return home.
Now, family members are mourning and remembering 22-year-old Sergio Abad.
“I saw two Army guys and as soon as I saw them, I was like they are here for Sergio, I know it. They came to our door and told us the news,” his adoptive sister, Catherine Popko said.
It’s the message that every military family dreads most, the news that their loved one has been killed in the line of duty.
When he was a boy, Abad was removed from an abusive home and raised by two foster families in South Florida, the Pitts and the Popkos.
“He was a really kind, strong boy,” Catherine Popko said.
After attending South Miami High and getting a GED, Abad joined the Army.
On July 13, 2008, the young soldier was just one day away from heading back to the states when a firefight broke out between Army soldiers and Taliban insurgents.
He was going out to rescue another unit that was under fire,” said Marilyn Popko, his adoptive mother. “We are told there was like 200 of the other guys and not that many of us. He went down fighting.”
Nine soldiers were killed in the battle.
Abad had plans to marry his girlfriend, Christina Parra, when he returned. And the two were expecting their first baby.
His family said that he always wanted to have a little girl. He didn’t know it when he died, but his fiancé is expecting a daughter.
For Abad’s family, the loss is painful but his legacy lives on.
“He was just an amazing, amazing man. And I am really going to miss him,” Catherine Popko said.
Abad will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington next week.
Private Sergio S. Abad is to be laid to rest in the Columbarium on the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery on 6 August, 2008. The interment services will follow a memorial service to be held on 5 August at Murphy’s Funeral Home, 4510 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, Virginia.
Note: Private Abad was posthumously promoted to Specialist.
The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Sergio during the month of July 2009 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Sergio’s family and friends today and in the years to come.