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- The People Behind The Sacrifice
Sgt. Eric M. Houck
Died June 10, 2017 Serving During Operation Freedom’s Sentinel
The Department of Defense announced today the death of three soldiers who were supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
They died June 10 in Peka Valley, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, of gunshot wounds sustained in Peka Valley, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. The incident is under investigation.
The Soldiers were assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Company D, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, KY.
Sgt. Eric M. Houck, 25, of Baltimore, Maryland;
Sgt. William M. Bays, 29 of Barstow, California; and
Corporal Dillon C. Baldridge, 22 of Youngsville, North Carolina
Three soldiers from the Army's 101st Airborne Division who were allegedly killed by an Afghan soldier on Saturday have been identified as Sgt. Eric Houck, Sgt. William Bays and Cpl. Dillon Baldridge, according to a Defense Department news release.
They died of gunshot wounds while deployed to Peka Valley in Afghanistan's Nargarhar province, the Monday release said.
"Today, as we grieve, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Cpl. Baldridge, Sgt. Houck and Sgt. Bays. We take this as a family loss," said Maj. Gen. Andrew Poppas, Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division and Fort Campbell, in a separate release. "In the days ahead, the 101st Soldiers and the Rakkasans will continue the fight against terrorism with unbridled determination. Our Soldiers are battle-hardened and committed to the defense of our nation and the freedoms for which we fight."
The Taliban claimed responsibility, the Associated Press reported, saying one of its fighters had infiltrated an Afghan army. U.S. officials have not identified the assailant who opened fire on the Americans.
Balridge, 22, and Bays, 29, both infantrymen, were members of D Company, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. Baldridge was posthumously promoted to sergeant, and both soldiers were awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge and Army Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster for their actions on the deployment, according to the release.
Houck, a 25-year-old forward observer, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. He earned Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Action Badge and Army Commendation Medal with a second oak leaf cluster, the release said.
Their deaths bring the toll of American troops killed in Afghanistan this year to six. Both special operations and conventional units have been on the ground in Nangarhar province, fighting an Islamic State affiliate that remains entrenched there.
Saturday's incident marks the second apparent insider attack in 2017, following March incident in Helmand province, where three soldiers were wounded by an Afghan soldier.
The Fort Campbell, Kentucky-based soldiers were supporting Operation Freedom's Sentinel, a counter-terror mission focused on ISIS and al Qaida elements who remain active along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In addition to Operation Freedom's Sentinel, U.S. troops are also in Afghanistan in a train, advise and assist mission with Afghan security forces dubbed Operation Resolute Support.
All told, around 8,000 American personnel are deployed to Afghanistan. The Trump administration is debating whether to increase that number by several thousand, as the Pentagon recommends.