Saturday, September 04, 2010

Marine Sgt. Jesse M. Balthaser

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Sgt. Jesse M. Balthaser, 23, of Columbus, Ohio

Sgt. Balthaser was assigned to the 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif.; died Sept. 4, 2010 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while conducting combat operations.

The girlfriend and parents of an Ohio Marine say they were informed over the weekend that he was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

Twenty-three-year-old Sgt. Jesse Balthaser of Columbus served with the 1st Marine Division, 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, and was based at a camp in southern Afghanistan. Parents Rick and Nancy Balthaser say they received word Saturday that their son had died the day before.

Girlfriend Erin McSweeney says the family was told Sgt. Balthaser stepped on a roadside bomb and was killed instantly. His loved ones had expected Balthaser to return home in November, when his current tour was scheduled to end.

"He knew that on this deployment, I think ... that this was going to be dangerous," said Nancy.

"The day we found out, I mean, (Jesse's parents) were both at the front door waiting. I don't even really think that they said anything. I just knew when I got there," said McSweeney said.

Stories about Jesse Balthaser surfaced over the weekend, many about his sense of humor and his strong desire to join the United States Marine Corps from an early age.

About 10 to 15 of his high-school friends stopped by their Westgate house to share stories about Jesse. "We learned a lot we didn't know," Mrs. Balthaser said, laughing.

Family friend Janet Fleming had known Balthaser since he was in third grade. She said he was a spunky kid who questioned authority. "He really had a tender heart," she said. "He was tough, but sweet. And when he came home, I always got big hugs."

The Balthasers are waiting for word on when they can get their son's remains. They were told they could bring whomever they want along. Back when their son returned from Iraq after his first deployment, the Balthasers organized a crowd to welcome him home. "We had 56 people there waiting for him," she said. "He loved that."

Balthaser was so eager to join up that his parents needed to sign paperwork to let the young man enlist while he was still in high school, 10TV's Danielle Elias reported.

"He was a smart kid, but he was more of a hands-on kind of guy," said his mother, Nancy Balthaser. "So the Marines was kind of a perfect fit for him at the time."

The Hilltop native and West High School graduate went on to serve tours in Iraq and Afghanistan with the 1st Marine Division, 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion.

He was killed Friday after his unit was involved in a firefight. Erin McSweeney, Balthaser's girlfriend who is pregnant with his daughter, said they were told that his death was instant.

"They had dismounted to do a check and sweep, and Jesse stepped on an IED," McSweeney said. "They don't know if he was shielding it, but he took the initial blast."

Rick Balthaser said three Marines and a chaplain came to his home on Saturday with the news. "You just don't believe that it's true," he said. "That's what I said. I thought, this can't be happening."

Balthaser's parents said they were still waiting to hear from the military when their only child will be returned to Columbus.

Balthaser's daughter, already named Regan Michael, is expected to be born in December, a month after her father's tour was scheduled to end. "(Jesse) was the one that made it seem that it was going to be OK and was so happy to come home and have his little girl," McSweeney said.

Marine Sgt. Jesse M. Balthaser was killed in action on 9/4/10.

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