Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Army Pfc. Michael C. Mahr

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Michael C. Mahr, 26, of Homosassa, Fla.

Pfc. Mahr was assigned to 54th Engineer Battalion, 18th Engineer Brigade, Bamberg, Germany; died March 22, 2011 in Logar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device, rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire.

Stephanie Mahr says she tried to talk to her husband Michael on the telephone every day.

Even for just 10 minutes, so she and the couple's 3-year-old son Jadon could stay in touch.

It wasn't always easy. The phone would drop the call or her husband would be too busy, or exhausted, from his job making sure the roads in Logar Province, Afghanistan, were clear of improvised explosive devices.

She remembers the last call.

It was Monday.

"He told me that there was this mission coming up and he would not be able to have any contact," says Stephanie Mahr. "I told him I felt really scared. I had a really bad feeling about it."

Michael, she says, tried to reassure her.

"He told me the same thing he told me all the time," she says.

I am a good soldier and I am coming home.

Tuesday evening, in a telephone call from her husband's step-father, Stephanie Mahr learned that her "especially bad feeling" was right.

Mahr, an Army private, and Staff Sgt. Joshua S. Gire of Chillicothe, Ohio, were killed Tuesday riding in their RG-31 Cougar armored car.

"Enemy forces attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device, rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire," is the official word from the Department of Defense.

Michael Mahr was scheduled to come home in August.

"Everybody loved him," says Stephanie Mahr, talking from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where she is waiting for the military transport carrying her husband. "His Army buddies called him 'Superman.' He didn't have any fear."

Mahr and his twin brother Matthew were born in Orlando, says their mother, Kimberly Albury. She divorced their father, remarried James Albury and moved to Citrus County when the twins were about eight, she says.

"There were eight kids all together in the house," she says. "There was never a dull moment."

The twins, she says, were especially close.

They played football together at Sumter High School in Bushnell, where they were both offensive lineman. They went to work together at Walmart.

"When Michael made the decision to go into the Army, it was hard on Matthew," says Albury. "It was hard on Matt. Hard on both of them being apart."

Sumter High football coach Inman Sherman says he, too, was struck by the closeness of the twins.

"You seldom saw one without the other,'' Stewart says. "If you saw one, the other was within 10 feet."

"Matthew is very torn up about it," his wife, Carly, wrote in an email on their way to Dover. "They were extremely close. Even while he was stationed overseas they did not go a day with out talking online or by phone. When they get together they orbit each other. If one moves the other mirrors it perfectly."

Michael Mahr "was your typical 26-year-old video game junkie," recalls his mother. "He loved X-Box. He loved the Gators. Loved, loved the Gators. He liked to go to rock concerts."

Albury says tried to dissuade her son when he told her he wanted to join the Army.

"I said, 'We already have a daughter in the Army, you won't make it through basic training.' He had a bad tendon in the ankle and couldn't work but it never bothered him."

Albury says she found out about her son's death when the men in uniform showed up at her door.

They didn't have to say a word, she says.

"We knew."

Stephanie Mahr says she first met her future husband when the two were working together at a Walmart in North Carolina in 2006.

"Actually, it never even crossed my mind" that she would one start dating her co-worker.

Then one night, sparks flew.

"He came in, looked good and smelled good and something clicked," Stephanie Mahr says.

A few months later, in April, 2007, they were married. Then Jadon was born. And they moved to Homosassa.

Initially, Mahr wasn't itching to enlist.

"He never really wanted to," she says. "Once he got out of Walmart, he never wanted to do anything. Then he went to a recruiter and it was like he was meant to be in the Army."

Stephanie Mahr says as a military brat herself, she knew all about that life.

"I was scared," she says. "He is my life and I didn't want him to go."

But he went.

He enlisted April 26, 2010, and at first went to Germany. He came home and left for Afghanistan on Nov. 2, Jadon's third birthday.

Mahr, she says, became a "great soldier." He was up for the Soldier of the Month in Afghanistan," she says, "because everyone said he was the best RG driver."

It is no easy task. The vehicle is extremely heavy and you have to watch out for IEDs and the enemy while navigating often treacherous roads.

"I believe they were ambushed," says Stephanie Mahr of her husband's last mission. "I talked to one of his buddies, who he was teaching to drive the RG. He said it was quick."

Stephanie Mahr says she has no idea how she will react when she sees the casket come off the plane.

"There is no way to be ready," she says. "I still don't believe it. He promised me every day he would be home. He said the same thing every time we talked."

Honey, you ain't got to worry about me. We are the Expendables.

"The platoon called themselves 'The Expendables," says Stephanie Mahr. "They were the baddest ass crew out there."

Stephanie Mahr says she doesn't know her son will react to seeing the plane either.

"He knows a military plane will be here," she says. "And I have explained to him what is going to happen, but I don't think he will fully understand. He misses his daddy terribly."

Mahr's unit in Germany will hold a memorial service for him.

Stephanie Mahr says it is too early to make plans for a funeral for her husband here.

She doesn't know how to begin setting up a memorial fund.

But she does have a message to anyone who cares about those who are serving and want to help. "They need to communicate with their families."

Phone cards trump popcorn, she says.

"One thing I want people to know is that all the things they send to soldiers is great, but one thing that makes it really hard on them is not being able to communicate. Internet is very, very expensive over there. Soldiers have to pay $200 a month for Internet service. We have to buy phone cards and it all adds up."

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."

Natives of Orlando, Mahr and his twin brother, Matt, were two of eight children, including four step siblings. 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 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 push ups and sit ups to drop a few pounds before basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

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.

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, 3, held a U.S. flag.

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

Army Pfc. Michael C. Mahr was killed in action on 3/22/11.

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