Updated: U.S. Army Specialist Mitchell Daehling hailed as a 'true warrior'
DALTON - He loved the outdoors, was into sports, and fit in seamlessly at Wahconah Regional High School after his family moved from Montana to Dalton during his sophomore year.
U.S. Army Spc. Mitchell Daehling, 24, of Dalton, who was killed in action in Afghanistan on Tuesday, was remembered Friday by those who knew him as a good student, teammate and son.
"He was a really nice kid," said Steve Messina, Wahconah's dean of students, who was Daehling's economics teacher during his senior year. "He was unassuming and friendly. When you spoke to him, he was very engaging in a positive way. He was just a very likable kid."
Military officials say Daehling was one of two soldiers based from Fort Bliss in Texas and one from Fort Stewart in Georgia who were killed by an improvised explosive device. Spc. William Joseph Gilbert, 24, of Hacienda Heights, Calif., and 29-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey C. Baker, a Hesperia, Calif., resident based at Fort Stewart also died in Tuesday's attack, Fort Bliss officials said Friday. Funeral arrangements are pending.
The son of Brenda and Kirk Daehling of Dalton, Mitchell Daehling graduated from Wahconah in 2006. Daehling and his wife, Samantha, were married June 17, 2012. Mitchell Daehling also has two younger siblings, Adam and Kayla.
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal said his "heart goes out" to Daehling's family and loved ones.
"Specialist Daehling was a brave young man who represented the best of America, and he will remain in my thoughts and prayers," Neal said. Wahconah Regional High School, which goes by the mascot name the "Warriors," called Daehling "a true warrior in every sense of the word," in a message posted on its website.
After graduating from Wahconah, Daehling attended Daniel Webster College in Nashua, N.H. His father said his son planned on graduating from college after the military, but was interested in joining either the Department of Homeland Security or the FBI after receiving his degree. His father said that his son had been told that those who applied to those agencies were looked on more favorably if they had previous military experience.
Mitchell Daehling joined the Army in September 2010.
"He just felt that this was something he needed to do," his father said. "It was important."
His father said that his son preferred active duty over base life in Fort Bliss.
"He actually told us that he enjoyed being deployed more than being at camp," Kirk said.
Daehling is the first Wahconah graduate to be killed in action since the Vietnam War, according to school officials. The school flew the flag at half-staff for the second straight day on Friday. A moment of silence also was held in Daehling's honor on Friday. Messina said Wahconah will honor Daehling in some way.
"I have to believe that we will," he said. "Hopefully, when things settle down."
Daehling was born in Kammerer, Wyo., and lived in Dillon, Mont., before his family moved to Dalton during the middle of his sophomore year. The family came to the Berkshires when his father was transferred to the Specialty Minerals Inc. plant in Adams from another company facility in Montana.
Although he came to the Berkshires in the middle of the school year, then Wahconah Principal Thomas Callahan said Daehling fit right in.
"He made friends easily," Callahan said.
Daehling was a member of Wahconah's club lacrosse team, and also played on the boys' varsity soccer team as a junior and senior. John Kovacs, Daehling's soccer coach, said Daehling was fairly new to the game.
"What he lacked in skill, he made up for in hustle," Kovacs said. "He was cooperative, coachable, a good kid."
When he was a senior, Daehling nominated Messina for the Excellence in Teaching Award, an annual honor given to a teacher by the senior class. When Messina was selected to receive the award, Daehling presented it to him at the 2006 Senior Assembly.
"He wasn't as outgoing as some of the other kids, although he certainly was friendly and capable," Messina said, "so to see him up there was nice because that was perhaps slightly out of character. It meant quite a bit to him to do that."
Daehling is the second soldier from Berkshire County to be killed in action in the span of nine months. In August, U.S. Army Pfc. Michael R. De Marsico II, 20, of North Adams, killed by an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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