Ringgold soldier's remains return

Ringgold soldier's remains return

July 27th, 2011 by Tood South in Local Regional News

Father, husband, truck driver, Marine and soldier - Sgt. Edward Koehler filled those roles.

In a truck convoy far from his newly adopted home of Ringgold, Ga., he and two other soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb explosion July 18 in Afghanistan.

Reached by phone Thursday, Koehler's aunt, Joyce Koehler, said her nephew had married and moved to Ringgold in May 2010.

Koehler's mother, Ruth, and wife, Cheryl, could not be reached Thursday.

In a statement released by the Pennsylvania National Guard, where Koehler served, the family expressed appreciation for the "heartfelt condolences and prayers."

"Please know this thoughtfulness is providing much needed comfort. Continue to pray for all of our troops and their safety. Their daily sacrifices must not go unnoticed," the family's statement said.

The 47-year-old soldier had two adult daughters, Tobi and Kayla Koehler, and a stepdaughter, Mariah Barigham, according to Guard information.

Koehler served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating in 1982 from Lebanon High School in Pennsylvania. He left the military for 10 years before joining the Guard in 1997.

"As a former Marine noncommissioned officer, Edward Koehler was known for his impeccable military bearing and eagerness to challenge himself and those around him," Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, Pennsylvania adjutant general, said in the release.

"When he was a private in the Marine Corps, Koehler took pride in playing taps at the end of each day while his company was deployed to Diego Garcia. Unfortunately it is now our solemn duty to play taps for him," Craig said.

Diego Garcia is a tropical island in the central Indian Ocean that hosts American military facilities.

Koehler worked as a commercial truck driver in his civilian life and a military truck driver in the Guard. In 2003, he deployed for nearly a year, first to Kuwait and then into Iraq, with the Williamstown, Pa.-based 131st Transportation Company, 213th Area Support Group.

The unit again deployed in January, this time to Afghanistan.

Preparing for deployment, Koehler drove more than 680 miles each way from Ringgold to Williamstown for monthly training, said Sgt. Matt Jones, Pennsylvania National Guard spokesman.

Two other soldiers died and five more were wounded in the Monday IED blast in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, near Bagram Air Base, according to the release. Staff Sgt. Kenneth R. Vangiesen, 30, of Erie, Pa., and Sgt. Brian K. Mowery, 49, of Halifax, Pa., were killed.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of these brave young men who have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of this country," said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett. "This tragic incident is a stark reminder of the dangers our troops face on a daily basis for the cause of freedom. We owe them our respect, our support and our gratitude."

Jones said the three casualties were the first for the transportation company, which has about 100 soldiers deployed. The unit is due to return home in November, pending Army needs.

Jones did not have full details but said Koehler's family members are planning a memorial service for him in Georgia.

In the week preceding Koehler's death, 11 U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan. Two more died Tuesday in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Meigs County, Tenn., Marine Pfc. Brandon Kyle Pendergrass survived a bomb blast July 16 in Afghanistan.

Since 2001, at least 1,676 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan. Koehler is at least the ninth service member with connections to the Chattanooga area to be killed.

Last year, nearly 500 members of the American military were killed in the conflict, the highest year total in the decadelong war. So far this year, at least 230 have died, according to the nonprofit website icasualties.org.