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Homosassa soldier killed in Afghanistan

An Army carry team carries the transfer case containing the remains of Army Pfc. Michael C. Mahr of Homosassa.

Associated Press

An Army carry team carries the transfer case containing the remains of Army Pfc. Michael C. Mahr of Homosassa.

BROOKSVILLE — His life cut short by the enemy, there are many things Army Pfc. Michael C. Mahr will never get the chance to do.

But as his mother, Kim Albury, waited for her 26-year-old son's remains to land at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Thursday, she found solace in the satisfying life he'd made for himself.

Mahr, who most recently lived in Homosassa, was happily married. He had three children. And seven years after his 2003 graduation from South Sumter High School in Bushnell, he'd found his calling.

"He beamed when he talked about the Army," Albury said. "He finally found his niche. That was what he was meant to do."

Mahr was killed Tuesday in Logar province, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire, according to the Defense Department. He was a little less than halfway through his first tour of duty.

Also killed was Staff Sgt. Joshua S. Gire, 28, of Chillicothe, Ohio. The men were assigned to the 54th Engineer Battalion, 18th Engineer Brigade, based in Bamberg, Germany. Gire was a married father of two young children, the Columbus Dispatch reported Thursday.

Natives of Orlando, Mahr and his twin brother, Matt, were two of eight children, including four stepsiblings. The boys didn't know their biological father, but their mother has married twice since their birth and both stepfathers — Jeff Salle and her current husband of 20 years, James Albury Jr. — played important roles in their lives, she said.

The family moved to Citrus County, then to Sumter County during the boys' high school years and then back to Homosassa.

At more than 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, Michael Mahr was an imposing presence on the offensive line for the South Sumter High football team. But off the field, Mahr and his brother were humble and low key, Sumter coach Inman Sherman recalled. They were also inseparable.

"They were great kids to have on the team because they were quiet and took care of business every day, and you could count on them," Sherman said.

Mahr loved to play video games, but he often grabbed a rod and headed to a local fishing hole, his mother said. He was a fan of the University of Florida Gators, especially Tim Tebow.

The twins thought about joining the Army together straight out of high school, but the Iraq war gave Michael pause, his mother said. They got jobs at Walmart.

Michael married in April 2007. His wife, Stephanie, has two sons from a previous marriage who live in Vermont — Caleb, 12, and Scott, 10 — so the family lived there and in New York for a while before returning to Florida in 2009. They had a son together, Jadon Michael, now 3 years old.

When Michael's sister, Melanie, enlisted in the Army, he started thinking hard about the service, Albury said. He talked to a recruiter and enlisted in April, cranking out pushups and situps to drop a few pounds before basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

His high score on the aptitude test qualified him for just about any job in the Army. But he'd nearly aced the marksmanship test and had experience repairing and shipping firearms. He also wanted to work with explosives, so he chose combat engineer.

"Our hearts sank because we knew what that meant," Albury said.

Michael's unit would be leading the way in hostile territory, clearing away the improvised explosive devices meant to kill him and his comrades. He left for Germany in November and was in Afghanistan by Thanksgiving. He kept in touch through instant messaging and did what soldiers often do — told his loved ones not to worry.

"He loved what he was doing," Albury said.

Before Mahr left, he had a long conversation with Albury's stepfather, a Baptist minister. Michael was never very religious, but he got saved, she said.

Before he left for Afghanistan, Mahr finally got to share his passion with his son. "He couldn't wait until Jadon was old enough to go fishing," Albury said.

They headed off to a little Homosassa lake, and Albury cherishes the memory of father and son in tank tops, shorts, and baseball caps turned backward.

While Michael was abroad, Stephanie got them a place in Inverness. He hadn't seen it yet.

Stephanie told Jadon that Daddy had passed away and gone to heaven.

"We're pretty confident he knows what heaven is," Albury said, "but you just don't know.

Mahr is the second serviceman with home ties to Homosassa to die in the line of duty in Afghanistan in recent weeks. Marine Cpl. John Taylor, 23, was killed Feb. 22 in Helmand province when an improvised explosive device blew up beneath his feet.

Albury said Mahr will be buried close to home, at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.

As his father's casket came off the plane Thursday, Jadon held a U.S. flag.

"He said he was waving it at his dad," Albury said.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Homosassa soldier killed in Afghanistan 03/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 11:36pm]

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