Brownsville native Pfc. Miguel Angel Villalon was killed in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Jan. 11 while conducting operations in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission.
Villalon, 21, and Staff Sgt. Ian P. McLaughlin, 29, of Newport News, Va., died when their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device near Kandahar Airport, with the Taliban immediately claiming responsibility for the attack, which is under investigation, reported the Department of Defense.
Both soldiers were assigned to the 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Combat Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C., and were on their first combat deployments. Their deaths were the first for U.S. forces in the new year. Two other U.S. soldiers were wounded in the attack but remain unidentified, according to the Army Times.
Villalon, 21, was born and raised in Brownsville. He attended Perez, Victoria Heights and Martin elementary schools. He attended Oliveria Middle School before he moved to Illinois in 2012. He attended East Aurora High School in Aurora, Ill., and was a member of the NJROTC.
He joined the Army in 2018 to be a combat engineer and reported to the 307th as his first assignment. His awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Army Achievement Medal with “C” device (awarded to service members who perform “meritoriously under the most arduous combat conditions”) and the Combat Action Badge.
“These paratroopers represent the very best of our nation and our Army,” said 82nd Airborne Division Commander Maj. Gen. James Mingus in a statement. “Three-time volunteers, they went when our nation called and paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Villalon is survived by his father, who lives in Brownsville, and his mother, a resident of Illinois.
Aurora de la Garza, whose niece Leslie Duval is Villalon’s aunt and godmother, said she’s praying for the family and that “Miguel Angel will forever be our hero.”
“I’m so saddened that this has happened,” she said. “I actually feel the pain his mom must be going through. The worst thing a mom can go through is losing a child.”
Duval said services for her nephew will be held in Brownsville. They are pending.
“We’re bringing home a hero,” she said.
Villalon’s older brother, San Antonio resident Arnold Fernandez, said his brother was the type of person who loved helping others, and was keen on joining the military from an early age.
“My mom found a picture of him when he was 3 and he was actually wearing an Airborne Army shirt,” he said.
Villalon became the “man of the house” after the move to Illinois and was working to take care of his mother, Fernandez said. Duval noted that Villalon was responsible from a very young age.
Fernandez said his brother was proud of being from the Rio Grande Valley and that when he graduated from military school insisted on being identified as a Brownsville native.
“My brother was an overall amazing person and I want everyone to know he left a hero, and he just really wanted to help people and serve his country,” Fernandez said.