U.S. Army SPC Ronald H. Wildrick Jr. returned from battle Tuesday night.
The remains of Wildrick, of Blairstown Township, were due to arrive Tuesday night at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., according to the U.S. Air Force.
Wildrick, 30, and another soldier died Sunday in the Kunar province in Afghanistan when enemy forces attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device, the U.S. Department of Defense said.
Wildrick enlisted in the U.S. Army on June 18, 2008, as an infantryman. He leaves behind two young daughters, Kaylee and Leigha, both under the age of 10, friends say.
“He was a hero,” said childhood friend Nicole De Rosa, who graduated with Wildrick in 2000 from Lenape Valley Regional High School in Stanhope, N.J.
“He kind of got sucked into believing that his country and his children are everything,” she added. “To protect them is what he needed to do.”
The Defense Department identified the other soldier killed as U.S. Army SGT Christopher L. Muniz, 24, of New Cuyama, Calif.
This was both Muniz’s and Wildrick’s first overseas deployment, according to the government. Both were stationed at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
Wildrick was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, the Department of Defense said.
He grew up in Byram Township in Sussex County, N.J., De Rosa said. He moved to Blairstown with his ex-wife, Stephanie Kasper, when the two started their family. The couple separated before he left for Afghanistan.
Efforts to reach Kasper on Tuesday were unsuccessful. But on the Ronald Wildrick Memorial Facebook page, Kasper wrote that, “Ron gave me two of the most precious gifts in this world … our daughters!”
“I will forever be thankful for that,” she added in the post. “He didn’t deserve this and it breaks my heart that his daughters won’t get to really know their father, but I will make sure they know he is a hero for what he did and will always know how much he loved them!”
Friends of Wildrick plan to gather Saturday night at the Black River Barn in Randolph, N.J., to celebrate his life.
Funeral arrangements have yet to be released.
U.S. Army Major Dave Eastburn, spokesman for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team to which Wildrick was assigned, said Wildrick was known for his height.
“I can tell you he was very well liked,” Eastburn said Tuesday night from Jalalabad, Afghanistan. “The thing most guys will tell you about him is he’s really tall.
“Just a good guy, family guy, couple of kids. Loved New Jersey.”
Eastburn said that prior to deploying to Afghanistan, Wildrick served with the U.S. Army’s honor guard in Washington, D.C., which has duties at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Arlington National Cemetery.
“It’s a huge deal when we lose a member of our team,” Eastburn said. “Of course, any time we lose a member of our team our thoughts are back there with the family and friends of him because we know that this is the toughest time that they’ll ever see.”
SPC Wildrick is the 1,854th American killed in Afghanistan … Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden