They roll down the roads of Afghanistan, ahead of the infantry, hunting for buried enemy bombs and digging them out. Their mission is to make travel safe for military convoys and civilian traffic alike.
They are U.S. combat engineers, and theirs is a dangerous job – as Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers can attest.
Three soldiers from the base south of Tacoma have been killed in action in the past week. All three were engineers.
The latest casualty to come to light is Sgt. Joseph Lilly, 25, of Flint, Mich., who was deployed to southern Afghanistan with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Lilly’s family reports that he died Thursday from injuries sustained after stepping on an improvised explosive on Tuesday. He belonged to the same engineer company as Spc. Trevor Pinnick, 22, who was killed in an explosion last Monday, according to his father.
“Today is one of the saddest days of my life,” Lilly’s wife wrote Thursday on Facebook. “Joe has passed away. Please keep my family in your prayers. He was a wonderful husband, father, son and brother. We will love and miss him dearly.”
The Defense Department said Lilly joined the Army in July 2005 and was on his second deployment. After arriving at JBLM in March 2009, Lilly deployed to Iraq from August 2009 to July 2010. He left for Afghanistan in April.
Lilly’s work as an engineer was portrayed in an official Defense Department photograph taken in February. In it, he’s at the controls of a remotely operated weapon system while doing route clearance aboard a 37-ton mine-resistant vehicle called a Buffalo.
Lilly is the 14th soldier from Lewis-McChord killed in Afghanistan this year.
Lilly leaves behind his wife, Katrina, and 3-year-old son, Alex, according to a post on Facebook by his father-in-law, Michael Frailey.