It was supposed to be an easy mission: The Fort Lewis soldiers would load their Strykers with water and food for another platoon, ferry it to a combat outpost and return home.
As they left for the mission Nov. 5, they swept the roads near Jelewar, Afghanistan, for mines. They scanned the area for any wires that could be used to detonate a bomb.
“We thought we did everything right,” Lt. Brian Giroux later said.
But in what has become the signature attack in southern Afghanistan, insurgents detonated a bomb underneath their 20-ton Stryker, killing Spc. Aaron Seth Aamot and Spc. Gary Lee Gooch Jr., both 22 years old.
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Hundreds gathered at the North Fort Chapel on Thursday to mourn the 27th and 28th losses from 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Aamot, a soldier from Custer, near Bellingham, was remembered for his deep Christian faith and deep love of military history. Gooch, a radio telephone operator from central Florida, was remembered for having a wicked sense of humor.
The men served with the hardest-hit unit in the brigade: 2nd Platoon of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment. Their unit has lost 11 soldiers since July, fighting in the Arghandab Valley of Kandahar province.
The soldiers’ battalion commander, Lt. Col. Jonathan Neumann, said the 1-17 has willingly taken on the burden of such attacks, but he believes they are beginning to see success.
“All this fighting could pass to the next follow-on unit or even the next generation of Americans,” Neumann said in remarks read aloud Thursday by his executive officer. “But that’s just not our style as American soldiers.
“This company,” he continued later, “refuses to take the easy way out.”
On the day Aamot and Gooch died, their platoon was still reeling from an attack nine days earlier that killed seven of their comrades. Running supplies to another outpost was a break from foot and mounted patrols through the valley’s orchards, where soldiers fight insurgents and try to win the hearts and minds of a wary populace.
When the bomb went off, Giroux, who was standing in one of the hatches, was thrown from the vehicle. The metal frame was pinned against his legs, breaking both tibias and fibulas. A gunfight raged around him.
Giroux figures he was probably knocked unconscious a few seconds. When he awoke, he looked around and saw only one other soldier. Four people were riding in the Stryker when it hit the bomb.
That’s when he realized Gooch and Aamot were dead.
“I’m lucky to be alive and be home with my family,” said Giroux, who attended Thursday’s ceremony. “(But the rest of the platoon) are still out there fighting.”
Aamot’s father, Mark, spoke to the crowd after the ceremony had finished but while most people were still seated – the first time a family member has done so since 5th Brigade deployed in July.
When the family was returning from the municipal airport with their son’s body, Mark Aamot said, thousands of people lined the streets from the airport to the family home.
The outpouring brought to a mind a quote attributed to 19th century French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, he said: “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
In that moment, Mark said, he understood what Tocqueville meant.
“I wish each and every one of you could have been there with me for that,” he said. “America is still good.”
Scott Fontaine: 253-320-4758