Fresh off the firing range in a dusty Afghan province east of Kabul, Specialist Dennis P. Weichel Jr. of Providence dismounted from a 16-ton gun truck to disperse children who had gathered in front of the heavily armored convoy.
Most moved, willing to wait to search for brass shell casings that could be recycled or melted down for other uses. But one girl, impatient, darted to collect a casing from beneath one of the massive, moving vehicles.
Weichel, a 29-year-old father of three, reacted immediately. He grabbed the girl and swung her to safety as the gun truck rumbled past on the morning of March 22, military officials said.
In that act, in an unflinching effort to save another, Weichel was struck by the vehicle and died of his injuries later that day.
Because of Weichel’s efforts, Army officials said, the child was unhurt.
“This is one of our core values: selfless service,’’ said Sergeant Peter Ramaglia, a spokesman for the Rhode Island National Guard, in which Weichel had served since 2001. “This epitomized everything.’’
Weichel, who was engaged to be married, is the first member of the Rhode Island National Guard to die in Afghanistan.
“You save somebody’s life, that’s amazing,’’ Ramaglia said. “He had three kids. There’s no doubt in my mind that he did that without any thought of his own personal safety.’’
Weichel arrived in Afghanistan early this month with Company C, First Battalion, 143d Infantry Regiment on a yearlong tour. He had also deployed to Iraq in 2005.
Weichel’s father, Dennis P. Weichel Sr., lives in Brockton, but could not be reached Thursday. He also leaves his mother, Linda Reynolds, and three children, Nicholas, Hope, and Madison.
“The last few days have hit me hard,’’ First Sergeant Nicky Peppe, who served in Iraq with Weichel, said in comments posted on the Army website. “He always had a smile on his face, and he made everyone laugh. But as much as Weichel was funny, he was also a professional. When it was time to go outside the wire for a combat patrol, he was all business.’’
Another former comrade from Iraq, Staff Sergeant Ronald Corbett, echoed those comments in an Army posting.
“He would have done it for anybody; that was the way he was,’’ Corbett said. “He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.’’
Governor Lincoln D. Chafee ordered flags in Rhode Island flown at half-staff.
“We are once again reminded of the enduring sacrifice our soldiers and airmen have made, and continue to make, in service to this great country,’’ said Major General Kevin McBride, adjutant general of the state’s National Guard.
Weichel’s body is scheduled to arrive Saturday at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Monday in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence. Burial will be at the Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery in Exeter.
Weichel was promoted posthumously from specialist to sergeant and awarded the Bronze Star.