The bodies of Sgt. Eric M. Houck, Sgt. William M. Bays and Cpl. Dillon C. Baldridge arrived back on American soil late Monday evening. The three soldiers from the 101st Airborne were killed during an apparent insider attack weekend in Nangarhar province, located in eastern Afghanistan.
The three soldiers had been assisting in the battle against ISIS there.
The “dignified transfer” occurred at Dover Air Force Base. This is an emotional ceremony in which six uniform-clad soldiers carried the flag-draped coffins of the fallen men off the plane, one by one, to return the to their families for burial.
“There aren’t a lot of words — my baby is on home soil,” said Eric Houck’s wife, Samantha Houck. “But this, this isn’t the way it was supposed to be. It is not the way I wanted it.”
The conflict in Afghanistan has been raging for nearly 16 years, and many consider the battle with the Taliban to be at a stalemate.
Bays, 29; Baldridge, 22; and Eric Houck, 25, would have each been 13, 6 and 9, respectively, when combat operations in Afghanistan began in 2001. The 16-year war has claimed the lives of more than 2,300 American men and women, and seen well over 17,000 wounded in action, with Saturday’s toll’s now accounting for three deaths this year alone.
Bays and Baldridge were both squad leaders assigned to 3rd Brigade’s Company D, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment. Eric Houck was a forward observer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment.
Eric Houck, who joined the military in 2013, leaves behind his wife Samantha Houck and their two children 5-year-old Erick Jr. and 3-year-old Violet.
“He did everything he could for them. Everything it took for them,” said Samantha Houck. “They were his world. Every time we talked [while he was deployed] he let them know how much he loved them.”
Bays leaves behind his wife, Jasmin, and three children, all daughters. He entered the service in 2009 and had served one previous deployment in Afghanistan.
“True love, you only find once in life, and I am lucky because I found William, the most loving, kind, amazing man and best daddy you can wish for your kids,” said Jazmin Bays. “The one you can’t imagine to live without. My better half, my soulmate. My best friend. The one whom my soul loves.”
Baldridge joined the Army in 2013 soon after his high school graduation and was currently on his first deployment. Baldridge was promoted to sergeant posthumously.
In addition to Baldrige’s promotion to sergeant, the three men were also awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
They were due to arrive home in August.