Four Colonels Were Killed in Afghan Attack

Lt. Col. Thomas Belkofer didn't tell his parents he was in Afghanistan.

May 21, 2010, 4:09 PM

May 21, 2010— -- When Army officers arrived at Lt. Col. Thomas Belkofer's parents' home with news of his death in Afghanistan, his parents were incredulous. His second tour in the long war wasn't due to begin for another five months.

"My husband and I both said to the colonel who came here to tell us, 'There must be some mistake. He's not there. He's not going until October. It must be someone else,'" Sharon Belkofer, the 44-year-old lieutenant colonel's mother, told

But a suicide bomber detonated a minibus in a convoy carrying Belkofer and three other high-ranking officers in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday morning. The victims included two full colonels -- one was Canadian -- and two American lieutenant colonels who were on a two-week visit in advance of their upcoming deployments.

The Army identified the American colonel as John M. McHugh, 46, from West Caldwell, N.J., who was assigned to the United States Army Battle Command Training Program at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. One of McHugh's five children, Michael McHugh, was a soldier serving in Iraq and met his father's body in Kuwait to accompany him home. The other lieutenant colonel was identified as Paul R. Bartz, 43, of Waterloo, Wis.

The Canadian was identified as Col. Geoff Parker, 42, of the Royal Canadian Regiment. He was the highest-ranking Canadian to die in Afghanistan.

The blast, which also took the lives of a specialist and a sergeant, claimed the largest number of ranking American officers in any insurgent attack in the eight-year Afghan war. Two colonels and a lieutenant colonel were killed -- along with nine other soldiers -- when a Chinook helicopter crashed in Iraq in 2007.

So far, nine lieutenant colonels and two colonels have been killed in Afghan combat. In Iraq, 20 lieutenant colonels and nine colonels have died.

"I'm sure the Taliban is quite happy about that," Doug Belkofer, the younger brother of the lieutenant colonel, told of the lastest assault on Army brass. "That's one of the things I really hate about this war and it has nothing to do with the reasons for being in it. It's such a different kind of war. We're not fighting a country. We're fighting terrorists who don't have a home country."

On Tuesday afternoon, an Army officer delivered the bad news to Sharon and Donald Belkofer, Jr., at the Perrysburg Township, Ohio, home where the couple raised their three sons.

"You think you're watching something in a movie," Sharon Belkofer told the Toledo Blade. "You think this isn't even real."

The couple realized that it really was their son who was killed as the officer described Belkofer's military history.

Belkofer was assigned to the headquarters of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) in Fort Drum, N.Y., where he lived with his wife, Margo, and their two daughters, Alyssa, 15, and Ashley, 11. His 18-year military career included a 13-month combat deployment Afghanistan in 2005.

Neither Belkofer nor his wife, a former soldier who rose to the rank of captain before resigning to care for their children, told Belkofer's parents about the two-week deployment to Afghanistan, Doug Belkofer said.

"It was not unusual for us to not know everything that was going on," Sharon Belkofer told of her son's moment-by-moment whereabouts.

Colonel Who Died in Afghanistan Didn't Tell Family He Was Deployed

Belkofer's earlier deployment in Afghanistan had been relatively uneventful.

"I imagine that Margo probably didn't see it as a big thing to tell everybody about," Doug Belkofer said. "I honestly think that both of them just thought this was just like, 'Oh, he's just going over for two weeks and he'll be back.' I don't think they really saw it as a high-risk thing. The fact that he was there before probably gave all of us a false sense of security."

Although the Belkofer's three sons served in the military, Sharon and Donald Belkofer were adamant in their opposition to the Afghan war. Family gatherings often turned to discussions about the conflicts, Doug Belkofer said. But the couple didn't try to impose their beliefs on their sons.

"It was conflicting for her [their mother] to have my brother involved in all that," Doug Belkofer said. "My dad has similar opinions. ... But Tom really did believe in what he was doing. He believed in our country."

"Tom was totally dedicated to the country and to his military career," Sharon Belkofer said, "and believed very, very strongly in all that they were doing, so I had to respect that. But as a mother, of course, I was nervous when he was gone and when he was gone for so long."

The other two American soldiers killed in the attack on Tuesday were identified as Staff Sgt. Richard J. Tieman, 28, of Waynesboro, Pa., and Specialist Joshua A. Tomlinson, 24, of Dubberly, La.

ABC News' Michael S. James and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

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