3 Ill. soldiers killed in Afghanistan

March 17, 2009 9:08:07 PM PDT
Three soldiers - all from Illinois - were killed by an improvised explosive overseas.The Department of Defense announced Tuesday the deaths of the three soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. They died Sunday in Kot, Afghanistan, when the device detonated near their vehicle.

They were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Woodstock, Ill.

Killed were Sgt. Christopher P. Abeyta, 23, of Midlothian, Ill.; Spc. Robert M. Weinger, 24, of Round Lake Beach, Ill.; and Spc. Norman L. Cain III, 22, of Oregon, Ill.

The three soldiers from Illinois who were killed in action in Afghanistan were from the hometowns of Mount Morris, southwest of Rockford, south suburban Midlothian and north suburban Round Lake Beach.

The young men were all part of the Illinois National Guard's large scale involvement in eastern Afghanistan. Part of the guard's mission there is to rebuild local roads and schools, churches and hospitals. That has made for a very volatile environment, far removed from towns like Mount Morris, Midlothian and Round Lake Beach, where the flags here are at half staff and the mourning continues.

Like his father, 24-year-old Bob Weinger hoped for a career in law enforcements. He thought military service would help his career path. But friends say he enlisted in 2006 because he strongly believed in the need to serve his country. After a year-long tour of duty in Iraq, he returned to his hometown where the village board, in the fall of 2007, honored Weinger for his service to country and commitment to community, reminding all that the soldier was a lifelong residents of Round Lake Beach and a four-year player on the school's soccer team.

Last fall, Weinger became part of the single largest deployment of the Illinois Army National Guard since World War II. Over 3,000 guardsmen and women of the 33rd Infantry Brigade were sent to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

On Sunday, Bob Weinger was killed when the vehicle he was hit by an improvised explosive device in the village of Kot on Afghanistan's eastern border. Two other members of his Woodstock-based units were also killed, Christopher Abeyta, 23, and Specialist Norman Cain, who was 22. Christopher Abeyta was the only child of Barbara and Paul Abeyta.

"He loved life, loved new knowledge and doing new things. He was compassionate. At school he would always stick up for the kids who were getting beat down," said Barbara Abeyta.

On Tuesday afternoon in their Midlothian home, with many pictures of their son, Sgt. Abeyta's mom spoke of his desire to serve and of a letter that he sent home last October in which he explained proudly that he felt he was making a difference, and that people who never have been exposed to life in a third world country really don't know how fortunate they are.

"I know it bothers you that I'm here, but what kind of person would I be if I didn't try to make things better?" said Paul Abeyta in the letter.

Abeyta was a high school grad. He was on his second deployment in Afghanistan. Cain was married and the father of two children. Their deaths now bring the number of casualties to 11 in the 33rd Infantry Brigade since its deployment in Afghanistan.