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Soldier, torn between family and duty, killed in Afghanistan
Here was Jordan Byrd’s tiny baby boy, all hiccups and spit. His father’s cheeks and chin. So much to love, with so little time.
Because out there — 7,000 miles and a few worlds away — were Byrd’s comrades. Fighting. Waiting for him to be by their sides.
Byrd knew his baby boy needed a dad. And he knew his fellow soldiers needed a medic. It was hell for the young father to leave his son. But he did. That’s what soldiers do.
Three days after the birth of his boy, Byrd packed his duffel bag and hopped onto a plane.
One month later, he was dead.
“Kiss him twice”
The 19-year-old private knew of the dangers he faced.
Sixty-two soldiers from the Army’s Fort Campbell had been killed in Afghanistan since Byrd arrived at that sprawling Kentucky base with his wife in April. Two of the dead were from his home state of Utah.
And he was going to the heart of the fight.
Six years have passed since members of the Utah National Guard helped initiate an effort to rehabilitate rugged, war-torn Paktika province. Since then, 80 NATO soldiers have given their lives in that volatile, mountainous land — and still, the fight goes on.
The Grantsville resident had been in Paktika no more than two weeks when he called his wife to report that he’d received his combat action badge — given to soldiers when they first engage the enemy.
He was proud of the honor, Savanna Byrd said. But as she stared into her husband’s eyes through the video camera on his computer, she could see he was struggling with another emotion.
“He wouldn’t tell anyone else, but he was so afraid,” she said.
She held up their son to her computer’s webcam. “And when he saw Ayden, he just cried,” she said. “He just kept saying how much he loved him and how much he misses him.”
On the telephone with a cousin Wednesday morning, Byrd made a simple request.
“Whenever you see Ayden, kiss him twice,” Byrd said. “Once for you and once for me.”
Three hours later, he left on patrol with his unit.
“What soldiers do”
The precise details of the fight that claimed Byrd’s life are yet to emerge from the fog of war, but a soldier who was there when Byrd fell has given his family this description:
Byrd’s unit — Alpha Company of the 1st Battalion of the 506th Infantry Regiment — had come under small-arms fire while on patrol. A fellow soldier had been struck by a sniper’s bullet. Byrd had rushed to the wounded man’s side.
Seconds later, he was shot in the stomach.
“When Jordan went down, the other soldier who was already wounded rolled on top of him,” said Byrd’s stepfather, Scott Pitt. “He was trying to protect Jordan. And then that soldier was shot again. These two boys — these two soldiers — all they were trying to do was protect each other.”
The condition of the second soldier remains unclear, though he appears to have survived the attack.
The Army announced the deaths of five other soldiers in Afghanistan on Wednesday — all of whom fell in other regions of the country.
Pitt, who was at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Thursday for the arrival of Byrd’s body on Friday, said he had been humbled by the circumstances of his stepson’s death.
“This is what soldiers do,” he said. “They fight for each other. They protect each other. Out there, in combat, it’s not for mom and apple pie. It’s for each other.”
But in a way, Pitt said, his stepson was also fighting for his baby boy.
“It was heartbreaking for Jordan to leave, but he wanted so badly to set a good example for his son,” Pitt said. “He believed in giving service to others. That’s what he did. And that’s how he died.”
“The kindest heart”
Ayden Byrd may grow up without a father, but he won’t grow up not knowing him. At all of 19 years old, Jordan Byrd left an indelible impression on those he loved.
“Ayden will never hear anyone say a bad word about his dad,” Savanna Byrd said. “Because I’ve never met anyone who has a bad thing to say about Jordan.”
Byrd’s aunt, Jodi Steinfeldt, said she didn’t understand her tenderhearted nephew’s decision to join the military until she learned that he had made it a condition of his enlistment that he be trained as a medic.
“He had the kindest heart you will ever know,” she said. “All he wanted to do in this life was to help people. I know it almost sounds like he was too good to be true, but really, he was.”
And there is one more way — one very personal way — that Ayden will come to know his father.
“He looks just like him,” Savanna Byrd said. “He’s got Jordan’s everything. He’s got his big toes. He’s got all of his faces. Jordan had this little smirk — this little grin that he did — and Ayden’s got that, too. I’m really thankful for that, because that grin, it would always make me so happy, no matter what.”