It was his first deployment, and US Army Specialist Mitchell Daehling, 24 and just married, was thrilled to be shipping out to Afghanistan, following in the footsteps of his beloved maternal grandfather, a Purple Heart recipient. Daehling had big plans for his return: He and his bride were going to throw a wedding party to celebrate after their intimate June ceremony, then go on a honeymoon.
“He would have been disappointed if he hadn’t gotten a chance to be deployed, much as I hate to say that,” said Daehling’s father, Kirk. “It’s sort of like playing basketball. It’s ‘Put me in, coach.’ ”
On Tuesday, Daehling was patrolling on foot in Sanjaray, Afghanistan, when an improvised explosive device detonated, killing him and two other soldiers, Sergeant First Class Jeffrey Baker, 29, and Specialist William Gilbert, 24, both of California, said the US Department of Defense.
Daehling was the 46th service member from Massachusetts to be killed since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, said a spokesman for the Department of Veterans’ Services.
Daehling joined the Army in late 2010, his father said, not long after his grandfather’s death. He was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso and was deployed in December. When Daehling got to Afghanistan, his father said, his platoon leader quickly moved him up to team leader. He was working to attain the rank of sergeant.
“He was a very special person,” said his paternal grandfather, William Daehling, who spoke by phone from Washington, pausing occasionally to gather himself. “At times, he walked to his own drummer. He was very committed to what he was doing and believed that someone in the family had to participate.
“It’s hard to put into words unless you’ve gone through it,” he said.
His grandson was close to his parents, and his younger brother and sister looked up to him, said William Daehling.
His brother, Adam, graduated last week from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, William Daehling said; the whole family had gathered to celebrate.
Daehling called the morning of May 10 and was upbeat.
“I asked him if he had any spare sand available; he just laughed,” William Daehling said. “It was a light family conversation.
“He never discussed in detail any of the combat operations that were going on. I don’t believe they were allowed to do that.”
Everyone was still gathered at the Daehling home in Dalton when a chaplain and a casualty officer showed up at 2 a.m. Wednesday on the family’s doorstep to tell the Daehlings their son was dead.
“His mother and father stayed up, and some of the rest of us did, as well,” said William Daehling. “Some slept on the couches and reminisced and talked and mourned and cried.”
Mitchell Daehling was born in Wyoming, his grandfather said; his family moved to Dalton about 10 years ago.
Daehling enrolled at Wahconah Regional High School, where on Thursday and Friday flags were lowered to half-staff.
His soccer coach, John Kovacs, said Daehling was a quiet boy with good speed, who made up in guts and hustle what he lacked in technical skills.
“He was kind of a committed kid,” said Kovacs. “It would make sense, him being a soldier. He had a sense of loyalty and commitment that you could see.”
Daehling graduated from Wahconah in 2006, and enrolled at Daniel Webster College in New Hampshire, where he first studied aviation flight operations but later switched to homeland security, according to the registrar’s office.
He left the school in 2010 before graduating to join the military, his grandfather said, but not before meeting his sweetheart, Samantha.
Samantha stayed in Massachusetts to finish her degree at UMass Lowell while he went to Fort Bliss, where he was stationed when they married, said his father.
The two never got a chance to live together.
The last time he saw his son, Kirk Daehling said, was in November, on his final leave before his deployment.
“We showed him off at the airport,” he said.
“The whole family — Samantha and his mother and I and Samantha’s parents — all spent the morning with him. And put him on the plane.”