A Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier who rejoined the Army in 2008 after a 20-year break was killed by an improvised explosive Thursday in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province, the Defense Department announced Saturday.
Staff Sgt. Alexander Povilaitis’ death marks the seventh fatal casualty in May for Washington-based service members. That’s the greatest number of combat casualties for a single month from the state’s military installations since July 2010, when six Lewis-McChord soldiers and a Navy sailor from Seattle died in Afghanistan.
Povilaitis, 47, was nearing the end of a deployment with Lewis-McChord’s 14th Engineer Battalion that began in July 2011. He was killed when an improvised explosive blew up near his vehicle.
His unit’s assignment is focused on clearing roads of buried bombs with vehicles designed to keep soldiers alive when they’re hit with the enemy’s homemade bombs. It has spent much of the past 10 months patrolling hostile roads in Helmand and Kandahar provinces without suffering a casualty.
Povilaitis was a decorated soldier from Dawsonville, Ga., who had received a Bronze Star medal. The Associated Press reported that he leaves behind a wife and four children.
He served in the Army from 1984-87 as a radio operator. He rejoined the service as a reservist in March 2008 and returned to active-duty in September of that year.
This was his first deployment to Afghanistan. He served in Iraq from November 2009 to July 2010 with a unit out of White Sands, N.M.
Povilaitis arrived at Lewis-McChord in June 2011 and started his deployment the following month. He had about a month left on this mission.
Five other Lewis-McChord soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in May, as well as one Bremerton-based Navy K-9 handler who was shot to death in Kandahar Province on Wednesday.
The casualties reflect a rising number of Lewis-McChord soldiers fighting on Afghanistan’s front lines this year.
At this time this year, most large Lewis-McChord units were stationed at home. Now, two Lewis-McChord Stryker brigades, each with more than 3,500 soldiers, are fighting in Kandahar Province. Other elements from Lewis-McChord’s artillery, military police, battlefield surveillance and combat engineer brigades also are also serving in Afghanistan.
The last time Lewis-McChord had so many soldiers overseas was in 2009-10, when about 18,000 soldiers were fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade that fought in Kandahar Province that year lost 37 soldiers.