On one of the last missions of his young life, Spc. Kyle A. Coumas had to carry the extra ammunition for his Stryker brigade squad. The extra 120 pounds wore on the Central California native as he marched through southern Afghanistan.
He fell again and again. He waded through waist-deep water. He carried the equipment for miles. He fell 20 feet into the Arghandab River, and his Fort Lewis comrades had to pull him out.
“His face was beat up and bloodied,” said Staff Sgt. Chad Brinkley, his former squad leader. “His clothes were covered with mud. Yet once he made it to the top, all he said was, ‘Put my assault pack on my back please, and hand me my rifle.’
“Not once did he quit or complain.”
Friends and colleagues gathered at Coumas’ memorial service Tuesday at Fort Lewis and remembered the 22-year-old as a quiet soldier who seemed to love his job.
Coumas, serving with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, was killed Oct. 21 in Kandahar when a roadside bomb detonated near his Stryker. He served with the brigade’s 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, which has spent the past few months clearing Taliban insurgents from the adobe villages and orchards that straddle the Arghandab River.
The battalion has lost 19 soldiers since it deployed in July. For the brigade as a whole, 26 have died.
Coumas arrived at Fort Lewis in June 2007, four months after he enlisted. One of his assignments was to sort and distribute the mail. He continued to carry out this task when he deployed, sorting through stacks of letters and boxes from a shipping container.
“He was a one-man show – covered in dust, working out of a small shipping container in the 120-degree heat,” Lt. Col. Patrick Gaydon, the brigade special troops battalion commander, said at Coumas’ memorial service at Kandahar Air Field on Friday. “The container was too small, he didn’t have enough help, he didn’t have a dedicated vehicle to pick up the mail, and 4,000 soldiers’ loved ones kept sending care packages.”
Gaydon, whose comments were read Tuesday by Lt. Aldebert Concepcion, echoed a common theme: “Not once did he complain. He just tried harder, working long hours in the mail room.”
His family, in a statement, said Coumas long loved the military. The family from the San Joaquin Valley town of Lockeford sponsored a platoon that deployed to Iraq in 2003; Coumas would pass out fliers, asking family, friends, neighbors and businesses for donations to support the troops.
He believed he was serving his country and was working toward a greater good, said his parents, Michael and Lori Coumas.
He transferred to the 1-17 Infantry, with which he served as a Stryker driver, about two months before he died. Chaplain Capt. Ronaldo Silva said Coumas had found his calling.
“He did what he loved doing, and he gave himself fully to it,” Silva said.
Scott Fontaine: 253-320-4758