Two more soldiers from the Oklahoma National Guard were killed this week in Afghanistan, bringing the total number killed there since their deployment began to 14.
Dead are Pfc. Sarina Butcher, 19, of Checotah, and Spc. Christopher Gailey, 26, of Ochelata, according to the Department of Defense.
Butcher was the first woman from the Oklahoma National Guard to die in fighting since women were allowed to join the Guard in 1971, according to a release from the Oklahoma National Guard. She was also the youngest Guard soldier to die in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Both died Monday in Paktia province when their vehicle was attacked with an improvised explosive device, according to the Defense Department.
Butcher and Gailey were assigned to Company F of the 700th Brigade Support Battalion of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, based in Tulsa. They were on a resupply mission in the province when the bomb exploded.
Two other soldiers were wounded during the incident but are expected to recover, according to a release from the Oklahoma National Guard.
“The Oklahoma National Guard family is deeply saddened by the loss of these two outstanding citizen-soldiers,” said Maj. Gen. Myles L. Deering, Oklahoma's adjutant general. “Their commitment and willingness to serve our nation during a time of war is indicative of their tremendous character and courage. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families, friends and those that continue to serve our country in Afghanistan.”
‘Proud to be in the military'
Butcher joined the Oklahoma National Guard in April 2010 and was an automated logistical specialist, according to a release from the Guard.
“She was very proud to be in the military,” family friend Patty Brown said. “She joined the military to follow in her grandfather's and brother's footsteps.”
Butcher would stay with Brown when she came to Tulsa for weekend duty.
Despite her small stature, she had large heavy packs to carry, but she “would get out of the car and unload it all.”
“Once a month, I would get her on a Friday night so she could be here on a Saturday morning,” Brown said. “She would be awake and in there at 6 a.m. and ready to go.”
Brown also would help watch Butcher's 2-year-old daughter when she was away.
The last time she spoke to Butcher was Sunday, when Butcher asked how she was doing after her grandfather had died recently.
“She was very thoughtful, someone you could always count on,” Brown said.
Butcher joined the Guard as a way to help support her daughter and help her on her way to becoming a nurse, Brown said.
Butcher will be promoted posthumously to the rank of specialist, the release states. She received several ribbons and awards in her 18 months of service.
Butcher was the first woman from the Oklahoma National Guard to die in combat, officials said. Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, 79 female service members from all branches have died overseas.
‘One of the best guys around'
Gailey was remembered as someone who was friendly and willing to lend a helping hand whenever someone needed it.
“He was one of the best guys around,” family friend Heather Fugate said. “He would do anything for you. That's the kind of guy he was.”
Fugate said Gailey enjoyed being in the outdoors and was a proud father of his 3-year-old girl, Ally.
“He was a fantastic father. He loved his little girl,” Fugate said.
“He loved to be outside riding four-wheelers and mudding with his friends.”
Gailey attended Caney Valley High School his junior and senior years.
Faculty at Caney Valley High School remember Gailey as the kid who had a quick and easy smile.
“He was always cheerful and always had a smile on his face,” Superintendent Rick Peters said. “It's a great loss for this community, and obviously our heartfelt sympathy goes out to his parents and rest of his family.”
Previously he attended Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Mo., for two years. Being a soldier was something he always talked about.
“He loved it,” Fugate said. “He went to military school. He wanted to fight for his country. He was definitely a hero who did everything to the best of his ability.”
Gainey enlisted in the National Guard in 2004, a year before he graduated from Caney Valley High School, according to the Oklahoma National Guard. He deployed to Iraq in 2007 where he was a motor vehicle operator. He was awarded several accolades in his seven-year career with the Guard.
Funeral arrangements for Gainey are pending.
“Our casualty assistance teams are with the families of the fallen this afternoon, and they will continue to work with them in the weeks and months ahead,” said Lt. Col. Max Moss, a spokesman for the Oklahoma National Guard. “Nothing is more important to us back here in Oklahoma than the families of our soldiers, especially those that have made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of our nation.”