Friday, June 11, 2010

Army Staff Sgt. Bryan A. Hoover

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Bryan A. Hoover, 29, of West Elizabeth, Pa.

SSgt Hoover was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 110th Infantry Regiment, Pennsylvania National Guard, Connellsville, Pa.; died June 11, 2010 at FOB Bullard, Afghanistan, from wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device.

Staff Sgt. Bryan Hoover's dad has a memory to hold on to – a sweet time last summer with Bryan and his brothers, fishing for pike on the Pickled River in Ontario.

"He was probably one of the proudest people I know. He was very determined – put 100 percent in everything he did," Bryan's longtime friend Laura Sari said.

"It meant the world to him," Sari said. "I mean to do that for us and to be over there fighting so that we could stay safe."

"He was a leader. He liked to lead people to greatness," Jeff Esper, Bryan's former middle school coach, remembered. "I'm sure that's what he was doing that day."

Staff Sgt. Bryan Hoover served three tours of duty.

"And he came back safe already how many times," Sari said, "and you never think he's gonna not come back."

Bryan Hoover and Robert Fike served in the military together for years, dedicated to defending their country. Although they lived more than 100 miles apart, they died together during a suicide bombing Friday in Afghanistan while on their second tour of duty together.

The two served as military police with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's Company C, 1st Battalion, 110th Infantry, based in Connellsville. Hoover, 29, of Lyndora, Butler County, a staff sergeant, was an assistant track and cross-country coach at his high school alma mater; Fike, 38, of Conneautville, Crawford County, a sergeant first class, worked as a corrections officer at SCI Albion in Erie County.

"They both died doing what they loved," said Sgt. Lucas Murtaugh, who was assigned to the 28th Military Police Company with the men. "They are outstanding people who loved their country and will be missed."

A male suicide bomber dressed in a burqa — traditional Arabic women's outerwear — detonated the explosives Friday morning in the Bullard Bazaar in Zabul Province in southern Afghanistan, military officials said. At least two civilians died and 16 others were injured. Hoover and Fike were on a foot patrol when the blast occurred. A third soldier from the Connellsville unit, Pfc. Anthony Spangler of Centre County, was wounded but has returned to duty.

Hoover, a former active-duty Marine, enlisted in the Army National Guard in March 2005. He received a bachelor's degree in sports management from California University of Pennsylvania and was an assistant coach at Elizabeth Forward High School, from which he graduated in 2000. Students erected a makeshift memorial at the school Saturday after hearing of Hoover's death.

"He was a great young man and a great coach and role model. He'll be sadly missed," said Kerry Hetrick, athletic director at the high school. "The kids looked up to him. He was always visible and working with the students."

Bryan and Rick Hoover looked out for their younger brother, Ben, an athlete at Elizabeth Forward, said Hoover's aunt, Blanche Hoover. Just before his deployment, Hoover moved from West Elizabeth to Butler County with his fiancee, Ashley Pack, said his brother, Rick. Bryan was an avid sports fan who enjoyed playing hockey and running, Rick Hoover said.

"He was a great guy who enjoyed life," Rick Hoover said. "It was his childhood dream to be in the military — that was all we ever played as kids. It was what he lived and died for." Rick Hoover said the unit deployed to Afghanistan in the fall.

Bryan Hoover was a good role model, his aunt said, never swearing and always behaving like a "perfect gentleman."

"Bryan was so caring. Anything you ever needed, he'd do," said Blanche Hoover. "He was so respectful ... and Bryan really believed in what he was doing."

Both men will add a posthumous purple heart to a long list of military awards.

The 29-year-old Hoover was a member of the Elizabeth Forward Class of 2000 and was also an assistant coach with the cross country and track teams.

"It's a shame, you know. You're close to someone, you graduate with them, you never think it's going to happen to someone you know that well and unfortunately it did. Third tour, it's really a shame. A lot of people are upset," Ray Budd said.

The former Marine had already served several tours in Iraq and was awarded a number of medals and commendations.

Marty Yher was a close friend of Sgt. Hoover and was his high school track coach.

Years later, they reunited to coach the track team. Although Hoover was attending grad school at California University, Yher said he was proud to serve his country.

"Several times he told me if it hadn't of been for this, with the time that he spent in there he was able to use the funds there in the GI Bills he was able to go to school. So he looked at it that way, that this was good for him," Yher said.

There's no doubt Sgt. Hoover will be missed in the community.

Students gathered at the high school on Saturday to place a memorial there and to remember the man one student called a "nice, inspirational coach." Hoover graduated from the school in 2000 and recently graduated from California University of Pennsylvania.

"I've known Bryan since he was a student. He was a soft-spoken, easy going person but he could carry on a conversation with anyone. He was a nice person to be around," said Tim Landy, head cross country coach and world cultures teacher at Elizabeth Forward. "He was very knowledgeable about running. He kept himself in top physical condition."

Landy said Hoover had served an enlistment with the Marines and wanted to continue his service so he joined the Guard. Kerry Hetrick, athletic director at Elizabeth Forward, said Hoover was granted a leave of absence after he notified the district of his pending deployment.

"He was a great young man and a great coach and role-model. He'll be sadly missed," Hetrick, 41, said. "The kids looked up to him. He was always visible and working with the students. He related very well."

"I can remember when came in and said he got called back into active duty," Hetrick said. "He was proud to serve his country."

Army Staff Sgt. Bryan A. Hoover was killed in action on 6/11/10.

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