COLUMBIA Ryan Rawl and J.D. Meador died on the same day, in a crowded market thousands of miles from the community that watched them grow from youngsters to soldiers in the S.C. National Guard.
Their deaths left the people of Lexington sobbing and wondering when the dying will end. Rawl and Meador were killed Wednesday while working at a military checkpoint in Afghanistan.
The deaths are among at least seven involving Lexington-area soldiers in the Middle East during the past nine years.
Its just a tragedy that this small community has lost so many kids, said Otis Rawl, a longtime Lexington native who is not related to Ryan Rawl but played football with his father. This is preying on peoples minds here. You go out and see people and you dont really know what to say at a loss like that.
Rawl and Lexington Mayor Randy Halfacre said theyve encountered a steady stream of comments in town as news of the deaths began to spread this week.
It seems to me weve borne more than our fair share of tragedy in this war, the mayor said, noting that Lexington is a hotbed of patriotism with a high level of support for the military.
At least 14 civilians were killed in the suicide bombing, which occurred in the town of Khost.
The bodies of the three South Carolina Guardsmen, including a soldier from Easley, will be returned to the state early next week, with funeral arrangements to follow. At least 35 others were injured, including five from the S.C. National Guard.
State Adjutant General Robert Livingston said the five S.C. National Guard soldiers injured in the suicide bombing in Afghanistan are in critical but stable condition with shrapnel wounds and broken bones.
Livingston said several amputations have been performed. He did not name those who were injured, but a Guard spokesman said two are from the Midlands, two from the Lowcountry and one from the Upstate.
Speaking at a news conference in Columbia, Livingston said the deaths and injuries occurred as the Palmetto State soldiers were teaching Afghani security forces how to operate a checkpoint in Khost.
While the S.C. soldiers were part of a security team that previously had success spotting suicide bombers, in this case a huge crowd near the checkpoint made it difficult, he said.
Most of the marketplaces are not quite this robust, and so detection was very difficult and detonation was very devastating, Livingston told reporters.
Statewide, Wednesday was the deadliest single day in Afghanistan for the S.C. National Guard, which has deployed more than 12,000 troops there since the war began in 2001. Until this week, the most recent combat fatalities were in October 2010, including one soldier from Lexington. Wednesdays casualties were the first in 2012.
Sixteen S.C. members of the National Guard have died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. S.C. has about 1,500 National Guardsmen national guardsmen in combat areas, a number that is expected to swell to 2,500 by the end of July, Adjutant General Robert Livingston said.