Saturday, February 13, 2010

Army Sgt. Jeremiah T. Wittman

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Jeremiah T. Wittman, 26, of Darby, Mont.

Sgt. Wittman was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.; died Feb. 13, 2010 of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device in Zhari province, Afghanistan. Also killed were Staff Sgt. John A. Reiners and Spc. Bobby J. Pagan.

Karyn Wittman — formerly Karyn Reneau — received the knock on her door that military spouses are constantly aware could come, but are still never truly prepared for.

Wittman's mother, Carol Reneau, said the family was informed by an Army officer and a chaplain Saturday evening at their Chesnee home that her daughter's husband, 26-year-old Army Sgt. Jeremiah Wittman of Billings, Mont., was killed in action Saturday in Afghanistan.

Karyn Wittman, 23, said her husband was a 13 Fox fire-support specialist who was deployed to Afghanistan last May — about a year and a half after serving 15 months in Iraq.

“People say it could always happen, but I really never thought that it would,” Karyn Wittman said Monday from Dover, Del., where she was flown by the Army to witness the dignified transfer honoring her husband. “So I really was surprised when they were at my door coming to tell me, because I knew it could happen any day, any time, but I really never thought it would ever happen to my family.”

Wittman, her mother and Wittman's 3-year-old daughter, Miah — who was named after her father — arrived in Dover Sunday night and returned home Monday after the ceremony. Reneau said her son-in-law's body will eventually be flown to Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, but military officials told the family the body will not be released for three to seven days.

Wittman said that while she was devastated by the news and is “still in shock,” she knows her husband was doing the job he wanted to do.

“I supported him 100 percent,” she said through tears, “and I support the rest of the troops 100 percent, and I always will. He did die fighting for his country and he always felt that he was fighting so that his kids or anyone else wouldn't have to.”

Most of Jeremiah Wittman's family still live in Montana, Reneau said, including another daughter.

Karyn Wittman said her husband told her he was able to get through each day of the war knowing he had his family to return to. She met her husband when he was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, and the couple married on Jan. 17, 2006. Exactly one year later, their daughter was born.

“She really loved her daddy,” Mary Burnett, Karyn Wittman's grandmother, said of Miah, “even though she was without him for three-fourths of her life, I would say.”

Karyn Wittman had been living at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colo., where her husband was stationed, but returned to the Upstate to live with her mother in Chesnee each time Jeremiah Pittman — who also served in Korea at one point — was deployed overseas.

Karyn Wittman, who described her husband as a “laid-back,” devoted family man, said she'll look to family and friends in both Colorado and the Upstate, as well as fellow members of Buck Creek Baptist Church in Chesnee, for support as she grieves.

Burnett said her granddaughter married a “very, very nice” man who was always pleasant to be around, and “I always liked him.” However, she added, “This Army life is not easy.”

“He told me he was going out on a mission for three days and he would be safe,” his mother, Cynthia Church, told The Billings Gazette on Monday. “He said: ‘Don’t worry, Mom. They don’t scare me. I’m a super soldier.’ ”

“He only had two months left over there and was so looking forward to coming home and being with his girls,” said Wittman’s aunt, Kari Dvorak.

Robert Wittman said he has a picture of his son with five of his Army buddies, and four of them are now dead. “He kept calling me every week and saying, ‘I’m still alive. I’m still alive,’ ” Robert Wittman said. “He just kept losing friends.”

Wittman attended elementary and middle school in Billings before moving with his mother to Powell, Wyo., for a time. He graduated from Trapper Creek High in Darby and enlisted in the Army in 2004.

“He had a huge heart,” Jenell Wittman said. “No matter what, he could always make you laugh or smile.”

Though Wittman is from Montana, his widow is from Spartanburg County. When he would deploy, she and their 3-year-old daughter would stay with family in the Chesnee area. They were there when they learned of his death. Karyn Wittman did not want to discuss how he was killed, but she did talk to WYFF News4 about how he lived.

"He was laid back. He was really friendly," said Karyn Wittman. "He loved to ride dirt bikes, do construction work and he loved to grill."

The couple was married four years. Their daughter Miah is named after Wittman. "Can you tell mommy where daddy is?" Karyn asked Miah. "At Heaven," said Miah. Miah grabbed her photo album and showed News4's Mike McCormick pictures of her father. "My daddy's a soldier," she said.

Wittman sent his wife a message Friday night and promised to call the next day, which turned out to be the day he died. He was also able to contact other relatives before his death. "He was a family man," Karyn said.

Wittman was expected to end his deployment in the next few months. He planned to leave the Army for good in November. "He wanted to be with his family," Karyn said. He'd already been on one deployment to Iraq. "He wanted to do what he did so his family wouldn't have to or no one else would have to," Karyn said.

In his honor, flags line the street where his wife's family lives in Spartanburg County. "I really appreciate all the support," Karyn said. "It really means a lot to know that he's being respected and honored."

Wittman's widow plans to have a memorial service for him in the Upstate, but it's unclear when his body will be flown to the area.

Wittman is also survived by his father, Robert Wittman, and sisters Charity and Jenell.

Army Sgt. Jeremiah T. Wittman was killed in action on 2/13/10.

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