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Hill airman's death a shock for family
ROY -- With a little more than a week to go before her husband's scheduled homecoming from Iraq, Danielle Balmer set to work making posters, buttons and banners and gathering flags to line the road leading to their house.
She even had a special shirt made for their infant daughter. "My daddy's finally home," it read. "It's about time."
There was no question in Balmer's mind that her husband would safely return. They had joked about the dangers in Iraq -- "if you get killed, I won't talk to you when I get to Heaven," she had told him -- 5 1/2 months into a 6-month tour of duty in a relatively peaceful stretch of the war-torn nation, Ryan Balmer had not experienced anything that would make him doubt he would be coming home.
And so it was that Tuesday, when Danielle Balmer saw a group of uniformed Air Force officers at the clinic where she works, she quickly guessed that her husband had surprised her by returning a week early.
"Then I saw his commanding officer," Balmer said. "And I could see, in his face, that he had been crying."
Ryan Balmer, 33, was killed alongside fellow Air Force Office of Special Investigations agent Matthew Kuglics on Tuesday in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. The men had been assigned as liaisons to leaders in Kirkuk, taking reports from Iraqi police back to U.S. military officials for action.
But though their job in the elite and often-secretive OSI was unusual, their deaths came as nearly 1,500 others have in Iraq: In an explosion caused by an improvised bomb planted in the road. The attack comes following the worst month on record for fatal roadside bomb attacks in Iraq - 90 U.S. service members lost their lives in May in improvised bomb attacks, according to Department of Defense numbers. With 21 such deaths, including those of Balmer and Kuglics, June is on pace to be even worse.
Patricia Balmer learned of her son's death shortly after stepping off a plane at Salt Lake City International Airport on Tuesday evening. She had come to welcome him home.
"Now, I guess, there are other things to do," she said.
Later this week, a cousin who recently arrived in Iraq will escort the fallen airman's remains to Indiana. Ryan Balmer, a native of Mishawaka, Ind., will be buried in that town, just east of South Bend.
Danielle Balmer, who had never contemplated life without her husband, figures she will now return to Montana, where she was raised and where her family still lives.
One day, she laments, she will have to explain all of this to her daughter, adopted just six months before her husband deployed to Iraq. "Anthony has promised to make sure Gabby knows who her dad was," she says of her 7-year-old son.
The boy, who recently finished second grade, already has assumed the role of man of the house. On Wednesday, he grilled visitors at the front door and answered questions when his mother and grandmother couldn't muster the words.
"He looks just like his father," Danielle Balmer said.
Ryan Balmer also is survived by an 11-year-old son from a former marriage.
Paul Johnson, a friend in Mishawaka, called Balmer "a great person."
"He would never turn anybody down," Johnson said. "Not for anything."
Balmer joined the military shortly after graduating from Mishawaka High School in 1993, serving 12 years as a payload specialist onboard the Air Force's fleet of C-5 Galaxy cargo planes. In that capacity, over the years, he had made several short stops to drop off cargo in Iraq. He was accepted into the OSI program in 2005, was assigned to Hill Air Force Base after finishing the OSI academy and deployed for his first full tour of duty in Iraq in January of this year.
Balmer is the 40th Utahn to die in the nation's ongoing wars, according to a count by The Salt Lake Tribune of residents and former residents of the state. Thirty-seven of those deaths have come in Operation Iraqi Freedom, including 10 so far this year.
Hill airmen account for four of the fallen. Balmer's death follows by five months the killings of Hill airmen Elizabeth Loncki, Timothy Weiner and Daniel Miller in a Baghdad bomb explosion.
A memorial service will be at Hill on Friday in the same hangar where Loncki, Weiner and Miller were honored in January.
To help out the Balmer family, the Ryan A. Balmer Memorial Fund has been set up at America First Credit Union, account No. 903219-4.