Four soldiers with an Indiana-based National Guard unit, including 20-year-old Spc. Christopher A. Patterson of Aurora, have been killed in Afghanistan, the Indiana National Guard said Saturday.
The soldiers, members of the 713th Engineer Company headquartered in Valparaiso, were killed when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb while clearing a supply route Thursday morning in southern Afghanistan, according to the Indiana Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Martin Umbarger.
Other than Patterson, the men who died were identified as Staff Sgt. Jonathan M. Metzger of Indianapolis; Spc. Brian J. Leonhardt of Merrillville, Ind.; and Spc. Robert J. Tauteris Jr. of Hamlet, Ind. A fifth soldier was injured in the blast and was airlifted to a military hospital in Germany.
The men were combat engineers who specialized in clearing routes of improvised bombs and other potential problems.
"Their mission is to keep the major supply routes clear of all obstacles for the convoys. And what that means is they're the first ones to go out to make sure the route can be used, so it's a very important mission -- but it's also extremely dangerous," Umbarger told The Associated Press.
Patterson, a 2009 graduate of West Aurora High School, was studying music education at Valparaiso University, expecting to graduate in 2015, according to his Facebook page. He wrote on Facebook that he joined the Indiana National Guard in June 2009.
A spokesman for the Indiana National Guard said Patterson was an "amazing kid" with a great family.
West Aurora High School officials observed a moment of silence for Patterson before Saturday night's boys varsity basketball game.
The high school's crisis management team will be on hand Monday to help students and staff cope, Principal Ross Truemper said.
"We were informed last night through the family," Truemper said. "Our heart breaks for the family. This really brings the war home. He was a nice young man, very active in the school. He will be missed."
During his time at West Aurora High School, Patterson participated in theater, music and chess club.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said in a statement he was informed of the deaths Saturday morning and he's praying for families of the fallen.
"This morning, I received from the adjutant general the news a person in my job dreads the most, that we have lost soldiers in combat. I had begun to hope that I had received the last such phone call, and cannot convey the sadness which it instantly brought," Daniels said.
"My prayers are joined with those of millions of Hoosiers who will hear this terrible news with deep grief but also with gratitude for the courage of those we have lost, and pride that we come from a state that produces men such as these," he said.
Umbarger said in a statement he is "humbled and honored" by the courage of the nation's service members and said the sacrifices of the four men won't be forgotten.
"I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of these brave citizen-soldiers," Umbarger said in a statement. "We will honor their sacrifice and always remember them."
• Daily Herald staff writer Madhu Krishnamurthy and Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.