Three soldiers from upstate New York were killed in Afghanistan Saturday when their armored vehicle hit a roadside bomb as they were trying to clear the road of just such deadly devices, the Defense Department reported Monday.
Spc. Brett E. Gornewicz, 27, of Alden, had recently been awarded a Bronze Star with valor. He was an aspiring engineer who was planning to move to North Carolina to start a new life with his longtime girlfriend when his deployment ended.
Spc. Ryan P. Jayne, 22, of Canisteo in Steuben County, had just returned to Afghanistan last Monday after a two-week leave back home.
Staff Sgt. Dain T. Venne, 29, of Port Henry in the Adirondacks, had been a volunteer firefighter and was honored last spring for helping rescue people trapped at a campground during flooding caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011.
A fourth soldier from their unit survived the blast but was injured. His condition was not known Monday.
Gornewicz and Jayne were both assigned to the 680th Engineer Company in Canandaigua and Venne was from the 366th Engineer Company in Canton. They all had been temporarily transferred to the 444th engineer company in Oswego for this deployment.
The soldiers were “on a route-clearing patrol” at about 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the Paktia province of Afghanistan when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device, according to a unit spokesman.
The main task of engineer units is to clear roads of bombs using armored personnel carriers specially designed to withstand mines. They use metal detectors to search for clues while also scanning the landscape for signs that something has been placed underground.
Gornewicz and Venne were on their second deployments. For Jayne, this was his first.
Monday, the soldiers’ families were making their way to Dover Air Force Base to greet the coffins of their loved ones later that night.
“He was a proud American who was proud to serve his country,” said Jack Gornewicz, Gornewicz’s father, in a cellphone interview as he was headed to Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
Brett Gornewicz grew up in Alden and graduated from Alden High School in 2003. He enlisted in the Army Reserve in 2006.
Jack Gornewicz attributed the decision to 9/11. “He wanted to do something to serve his country,” he said.
He was deployed the following year to Iraq. In 2011, he graduated from Buffalo State College with a degree in industrial technology before being deployed again in January, this time to Afghanistan.
His father said Gornewicz was not the kind to complain about his deployments. “Never once,” Jack Gornewicz said.
Nor was he the type to seek attention. When he came home for his two-week leave in August, he cringed at an article about him that he saw in a local paper. His family had planned to hold a big reception for him too, but he asked them to cancel it.
“He didn’t want any attention,” his father said. “That’s not why he served.”
While he was home, he “wanted to do all-American things,” his father said. The Erie County Fair. Quality time with his family and friends. He went to North Carolina to visit his sister, Cassandra Cranston, and her baby daughter, Avery, as well as his longtime girlfriend, Nicole Rumley.
The two had met years ago working at Alden Pools. They began dating when he came back from Iraq. Rumley had just recently moved to Fayetteville, N.C., to teach high school French, and Gornewicz’s plan was to move there with her when he was done in Afghanistan.
“He was a wonderful, wonderful man,” said Rumley, who was joining his family at Dover.
Gornewicz had sent her an email on Halloween, asking her about her students’ costumes. They last spoke by phone the previous weekend. He sounded in good spirits, but that’s what he’d do no matter what. “He always put on a happy face anyway,” she said.
A fellow soldier noted that Gornewicz had been awarded a Bronze Star with valor this summer, but did not know the details of why he had been honored.
Jayne was listed by the Army as being from Campbell, but he was most recently living in Canisteo.
Jayne had just come home last month for his leave and went back to Afghanistan last week, according to the Hornell Evening Tribune.
His Facebook page was filled with heartbroken notes from friends and family Monday.
“You were such a great kid who will be truly missed,” wrote one friend.
“You will always be my hero. Thank you for helping our country!” wrote another.
Jayne had written about his visit home on Oct. 22. “It was a really good 2 weeks home. glad i saw most of my family and friends. for those who i didnt see its nothing personal but i will see u in 3 months. it was fun but now its back to business for a bit. love yall.”
Staff Sgt. Dain Venne was with the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division but reported to the Reserves training center in Oswego, according to the Plattsburgh Press-Republican.
In May, he had been honored with the Firefighters Commendation Medal from the Port Henry Fire Department for helping stranded campers when Hurricane Irene hit last August. His father accepted the award on his behalf because he was in Afghanistan, according to the Plattsburgh Press-Republican.
As sad news spread of the three soldiers’ deaths, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo directed all flags on state buildings to be flown at half-staff on Wednesday.
“Along with all New Yorkers, I mourn the deaths of Spc. Gornewicz, Spc. Jayne and Staff Sgt. Venne,” Cuomo said in a statement. “These young men were all volunteers who lived and worked in our communities and gave their lives for our great country.
“We extend our condolences to their friends, their families, and their fellow soldiers.”