COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - Family members are preparing to say goodbye to three US service members killed overseas.
Citadel graduate 1st Lieutenant Ryan Rawl of Lexington, Specialist John Meador of Columbia, and Sergeant First Class Matthew Thomas of Easley were killed in a suicide bomb blast in Afghanistan. Five other guardsmen were wounded. All eight were serving with the 133rd Military Police Company.
They were deployed and serving in the Khowst province. Rawl was a father and a sheriff's deputy.
"This is someone in our family that we lost and that we're going to miss very dearly," Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said.
Thomas joined the National Guard following 9/11. He was married with a two-year-old son.
"My heart just sunk. It just fell out. It's horrible, nicest guy in the world," friend Rich Sholtz said.
Meador had two daughters. Friends say serving in the military was in his blood.
"He loved the military and he wanted to be a part of representing the United States and doing his part," Olan Black said.
"The mission of the 133rd MP Company in Khowst Province is to spread out and to teach the Afghan Police how to protect the people of Afghanistan," state Adjutant General Robert Livingston said.
Livingston says in particular the MP Company helped the Afghans learn how to treat civilians and handle combatants. He says the deaths are a reminder that the military is still actively defending our country, and he sends his deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of these heroes.
"We don't forget our families. Especially the ones of the fallen. We don't forget any of our families. We wrap our arms around these heroes of ours," Livingston said.
The three heroes were set to return home this August. Livingston says the five soldiers who were wounded are in critical, but stable condition. No word on when they will be returned to South Carolina.
The three deaths mean a total of 16 members of the South Carolina National Guard have died during combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.