It is a compelling war-zone story of heroism of a U.S. soldier who gave his own life to save an Afghan girl from certain injury.
Sgt. Dennis Weichel, 29, died in Afghanistan last week as he lifted an Afghan girl who was in the path of a large military vehicle barreling down a road.
Weichel, a Rhode Island National Guardsman, was riding along in a convoy in Laghman Province in eastern Afghanistan when some children were spotted on the road ahead.
The children were picking up shell casings lying on the road. The casings are recycled for money in Afghanistan. Weichel and other soldiers in the convoy got out of their vehicles to get them out of the way of the heavy trucks in the convoy.
The children were moved out of the way, but an Afghan girl darted back onto the road to pick up some more casings that lay underneath a passing MRAP, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle. The huge armored trucks can weigh as much as 16 tons and are designed to protect the troops they carry from roadside bombs.
Weichel spotted the girl and quickly moved toward her to get her out of the way. He succeeded, but not before he was run over by the heavily armored truck. The girl was safe, but Weichel later died of his injuries. He had arrived in Afghanistan a few weeks ago and had been a member of the Rhode Island National Guard since 2001.
Lt. Col. Denis Riel, a spokesman for the Rhode Island National Guard, said Weichel embodied values that can’t be taught. “I have heard nothing but incredible stuff about this kid, selfless beyond our core values that we live up to,” Riel said. “As I hear more from family and others, he was the living embodiment of the Army’s core values: courageous, selfless and loyal. All values we expect from our soldiers. We mourn all combat deaths, but this one is a significant loss.”
An Army article quotes two former colleagues praising Weichel’s character.
Staff Sgt. Ronald Corbett, who deployed with Weichel to Iraq in 2005, said, “He would have done it for anybody,” adding, “That was the way he was. He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He was that type of guy.”
First Sgt. Nicky Peppe also served with Weichel in Iraq. “He was a big kid at heart,” Peppe said. “He always had a smile on his face and he made everyone laugh. 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.”
Since his death, the father of three has been posthumously promoted to sergeant and received the Bronze Star for his heroism.
His remains will arrive in Rhode Island Saturday, and a wake will be held in Providence Sunday. He’ll be buried Monday. He is survived by his children, his fiancée and his parents. Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee has ordered flags in the state to be flown at half-staff until Weichel’s burial.