WESTMINSTER, MA, USA U.S. Army 1LT, CO A, SPECIAL TROOP BN, 4TH BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM, FORT RILEY, KS BAGHDAD, IRAQ 05/02/2007
An Army officer from Westminster who served with the famed “Big Red One” 1st Infantry Division was killed in Iraq this week when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb, the Pentagon announced May 4.
Army 1st Lieutenant Ryan P. Jones, 23, and Specialist Astor Sunsin-Pineda, 20, of Long Beach, Calif., died of wounds suffered in the attack May 2 in Baghdad. Both soldiers were combat engineers, who are typically responsible for clearing routes of roadside bombs or other explosive devices.
Eleven days before he died, Jones described the perils of his mission in a letter to members of the Junior ROTC program at the Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School, where he graduated in 2001.
“The enemy’s most dangerous weapon is the improvised explosive device, or IED,” Jones said. “Each day, my platoon and I patrol the streets of Baghdad looking for these IEDs. Once we find one, we either blow it up or disarm it. Never a dull moment! There has been a few times the IEDs have found us before we found them, but don’t worry, our trucks have enough armor on them to survive most blasts,” Jones said.
Jones joined the Army in May 2005 and began serving with the 1st Infantry that December. He deployed to Iraq in February for his first tour there.
“Ryan was a great person, really smart, who always had a smile,” said Westminster Town Clerk Denise MacAloney, a family friend. “The thing I remember about him is that he was always such a soft and kind person. When you talked to him he always looked you in the eye and you always felt like he was paying attention to you.”
Jones, the son of Kevin and Elaine Jones, was an only child, MacAloney said.
“His parents are devastated,” she said.
The Jones and MacAloney families both attended Holy Spirit Church in Gardner, while Elaine Jones and Denise MacAloney went to Blue Star Mothers meetings together. MacAloney’s son, Clayton, is in the Marine Corps.
“A lot of kids go through high school. For the teachers and administrators, there are some who fall through the cracks, some you don’t know, some you know – but everybody knew this kid,” said Montachusett Superintendent-Director James Culkeen, who taught Jones in a class. “It’s a really tragic loss.”
Jones graduated from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 2005 with a degree in civil engineering. He was involved in ROTC in high school and college, MacAloney said.
“I am really finding it very difficult to say anything,” said associate professor Rajib Mallick, who had served as Jones’ project adviser at WPI. “It is a terrible loss of human life, youth, energy and education.”
“Ryan was always willing to help others, and he would help you in such a way that you didn’t know you were being helped,” Mallick said.
Jones seemed to enjoy life and its challenges, said Frederick Hart, professor and head of the civil and environmental engineering department.”The biggest thing that made him stand out was just his pleasant nature … that’s what we remember about him,” Hart said.
Jones often urged his mother to send packages to his entire unit, MacAloney said. “His mother has received thank-you notes in the last few days from his men saying what a great platoon leader he was and how lucky they were to have him,” she said.