Two Indiana Guardsmen killed in Afghanistan

July 17, 2012 (ST. JOHN, Ind.)

Specialist Sergio Perez of Crown Point and Specialist Nick Taylor of Berne, which is near Fort Wayne, died in an attack Monday.

Perez graduated from Lake Central High School in 2010. He and Taylor were killed by propelled grenade fire in what the military calls a complex operation.

Just two years ago, he was roaming the halls of Lake Central High School. Specialist Sergio Perez joined the Indiana National Guard, and after training in Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, he was deployed to Afghanistan with the 17th Engineer Company. He was killed along with fellow Soldier Nicholas Taylor, 20, from the small Northeast Indiana town of Berne. Taylor was the son of the town's police chief.

"For the young men and women that do serve our country, I cannot say enough about them to volunteer and do that," said Asst. Chief Jim Newbold of the Berne Police Department. "As for Nick, I am kind of at a loss for words."

The Guard unit the two soldiers belonged to suffered four other casualties in January.

Governor Mitch Daniels issued a statement Tuesday, saying: "No Guard unit in my memory has been assigned a more dangerous mission than the 713th, and here again we see the incredible risks these citizen-Soldiers volunteer to run for the rest of us."

Friends and family of the two soldiers killed this week are in mourning.

"He was very well thought of, very highly respected," said Matt Lehman, a former co-worker of Taylor. "He was kind of a people magnet... whenever you saw him, he had a big smile, and people were naturally attracted to him."

Sergio Perez and three of his friends were together every day when he was in town. All four went to Lake Central High School. When he graduated two years ago, Perez enlisted in the Indiana National Guard.

Perez lived in Crown Point about four miles from the high school, which is in St. John. We spoke with his family briefly. They learned the news fairly recently, and at this point, they say they are not up to making any statements.

"He was just an all-around great guy - no matter who you are, he would get along with you no matter what," said friend Esteban Gutierrez.

Mitchell Peters got a tattoo to honor Perez Tuesday morning. The other friends plan to get identical ones. They say he was more like a brother than a friend.

"He would do anything for anybody. No questions asked. There's nothing anyone would say bad about him," said Peters.

Mario Dominguez last spoke to Perez Saturday, two days before he died. They planned to move in together in an apartment in Fort Wayne with Taylor, also killed in the attack. It is hard to accept for the group of young friends.

"It hasn't hit yet, just because I'm used to him being gone," said Dominguez. "Until I see him, it's not gonna be real."

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