Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ryan A. Balmer dies 'of wounds suffered when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device'

Grief grips a Mishawaka family, just days before their hometown hero was set to return from Iraq. The Defense Department confirmed late Wednesday that 33-year-old Technical Sergeant Ryan Balmer was one of two soldiers killed when a roadside bomb went off next to their vehicle near Kirkuk, Iraq.

Tech Sgt. Balmer was serving as a Special Agent for Counterintelligence based out of Hill Air Force Base in Salt Lake City.

News of Balmer's death hit family and friends hard. They remember him as a wonderful husband, father, brother, and son.

Balmer graduated from Mishawaka High School in 1992, and grew up just a few blocks away as the youngest of 9 children. His 5 brothers and 3 sisters say he lived to make others happy. Even in his death, that love shines through, as friends and family look back on the life of a hometown hero.

"Ryan's the type that when he was around people, he made them feel like family," close family friend and designated family spokesman Paul Johnson told WSBT. "There was no strangers!"

In 1992, Ryan Balmer changed his mind about attending Vincennes College and talking to a family friend in the Air Force. Recruiting only lasted a few minutes before he signed up to serve his country.

A year later, he was a payload master for C-5 Galaxy transport planes, and quickly rose to become a decorated counterintelligence agent, awaiting his first call to Iraq.

That call came December 12th, 2006.

This weekend, family and friends awaited another phone call, that signaled he was coming home.

"He got his papers to be home Sunday," said Johnson. "It was the end of his tour of duty over there. He was going from one base to the other to get on the plane and come back home."

But Tech Sergeant Balmer and Staff Sergeant Matthew Kuglics of North Canton, Ohio-- another Special Agent-- never made it to the base.

That simple phone call then turned laughter to tears, and left Joshua, Anthony, and newborn Gabriella Balmer without a Father, just days before Gabriella's first birthday.

It was supposed to be the first birthday she celebrated with Dad and Grandma at home in Utah.

Family members say Ryan's mother left yesterday to fly out to his home in Salt Lake City, and prepare for his homecoming. But now, the flight the Balmers are focused on is carrying a fallen hero who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the country he loved.

Ryan Balmer is also being guarded tonight by his best friend and cousin Andy Deacon, who graduated from Penn High School.

He is also serving in Iraq with the National Guard as a refueling pilot, and has volunteered to fly Tech Sgt. Balmer's body back home. He'll then be escorted by a team of U.S. Air Force Officers from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Their plane is expected to land at South Bend Regional Airport sometime Thursday.

Bubb Funeral Chapel in Mishawaka is handling the funeral arrangements, but at this point it's unclear whether services will be held Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

From WSBT 22