CHIPPEWA, Pa. (KDKA/AP) — Long before his senior year at Hopewell High School, Dylan Elchin knew his military future.
“When he was 14, he started reading books about special services,” says his mom, Dawna Duez.
But she says he didn’t tell her until he graduated in 2012 about his plans.
“He said, ‘I’m gonna enlist,’ and he went with my dad and enlisted,” she said.
Dawna was proud of her son’s decision, and was comforted when Dylan choose the Air Force.
“I didn’t know he was jumping out of planes and diving underwater, and all the things he was doing,” she said.
He was assigned to the 26th Special Tactics Squadron, based at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.
During his time in uniform, mother and son have stayed in touch at least once every two weeks.
“You know, as long as I could talk on the phone and see his green button [on Facebook], I knew we were okay,” Dawna said.
Along the way, Dylan met and got engaged to Jordan, and the couple planned to marry when he returned from deployment.
KDKA’s John Shumway Reports:
Dawna says her motherly fears rose to the top when Dylan came home in July to tell her he was being deployed to Afghanistan in support of OPERATION Freedom’s Sentinel.
“I didn’t want him to go. He said, ‘Mom, I’ll be okay,'” Dawna said. “I said, ‘Dylan, if anything happens to you, it will destroy me.’ He said, ‘Mom, I’ll be fine,’ with a big smile on his face, ‘I’ll be fine.’ I said, ‘It’s in God’s hands now.’ But when he left out that door, and I hugged him, I said, ‘It’s in God’s hands now,’ and he said, ‘Mom, I’ll be fine.'”
Since August, Dylan has been with Special Forces on patrols, coordinating air support for ground operations.
On Thanksgiving Day, Dawna says she Facetimed with her son for the last time. She says she took the opportunity to put a plug in for grandchildren.
“He looked at me with that face, and he said, ‘Oh no, no, no, we’re not having children yet, the world isn’t ready for anymore Dylan Elchins yet,'” Dawna said. “And we just laughed, and that face he made at me, you know.”
Dylan told his mom during that call he was going out on a week-long patrol. She knew better than to ask for details.
“I did say, ‘When you’re done, call me or message me, so I know you’re okay,’” she said.
Tuesday morning, as new broke around the world of three American service members killed in a massive roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan, Duez says, “There was a knock at my door and there were two uniform people at my door. And I knew, I didn’t want to let them in. I knew right away what it was. They didn’t have to say a word, I knew what it was.”
Lt. Col. Gregory Walsh, commander of the 26th Special Tactics Squadron, said in a statement from the United States Air Force: “Dylan had an unusual drive to succeed and contribute to the team. He displayed maturity and stoicism beyond his years, and was always level-headed, no matter the situation. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Dylan’s family, fiancé, and friends. He will be sorely missed, but never forgotten.”
The two other service members killed are identified as Army Capt. Andrew Patrick Ross, age 29, of Lexington, Virginia and Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Michael Emond, age 39, of Brush Prairie, Washington.
They were killed in Ghazni province, an area where the Taliban is resurgent. It was the deadliest attack against U.S. forces in Afghanistan this year.
Ross and Emond were assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Dylan’s family is on the way to Dover Air Force Base where they will stand on the tarmac Thursday to see what so many families have seen before as the flag draped casket containing Dylan’s remains arrives home. She’s concerned she won’t have the strength.
“I don’t know, I never thought I’d be doing this,” she says.
Dylan’s body will come home to Beaver County for a funeral before he is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Air Force says he had a number of awards, including: Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal with Valor, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Combat Action Medal, Air Force Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Award, Air Force NCO Professional Military Education Graduate Ribbon, Air Force Training Ribbon and NATO Medal.
He was also a Distinguished Graduate of Airman Leadership School, and was a qualified military static line jumper, free fall jumper, an Air Force qualified combat scuba diver, and a qualified Joint Terminal Attack Controller.
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