Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Ard, a Green Beret from 1st Special Forces Group, died from wounds sustained during combat operations in Zabul Province, Afghanistan on Thursday, U.S. Army Special Operations Command has confirmed.
Ard, 31, left behind a young daughter and a pregnant wife, according to a local newspaper.
“We received news that we lost our son Dustin" in Afghanistan, said his father, Bruce Ard, according to a Facebook post Friday by Idaho State Rep. Rod Furniss. "My heart has a hole so big I can hardly stand it. He was the finest young man I have ever known. Not because he was my son but because of the person he is. A great son, brother, father and husband. He loved his country and was the kind of person we should all be. Son, I love you and know we will see each other again. I will miss you every day I live without you. Love Dad.”
According to The New York Times, Ard was on a joint operation with a unit of Afghan commandos when he died. The details of his death have not been released.
Born in Idaho Falls, Idaho, on Oct. 4, 1987, Ard enlisted in the Army in Hyde Park, Utah in 2011, as a Special Forces candidate through the 18X program, according to Lt. Col. Loren Bymer, a USASOC spokesman, in a media release.
Ard was assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina and attended Special Forces Assessment and Selection and graduated from the Special Forces Qualification Course in 2015. He was then assigned to 2nd Battalion, 1st SFG (A) at Joint Base Lewis–McChord, Washington, as a Special Forces communications sergeant.
“Sgt. 1st Class Ard’s loss is felt across our 1st Special Forces Group Family,” said Col. Owen G. Ray, 1st Special Forces Group commander, in the release. “Our priority now is to take care of his family and our Soldiers and provide the best possible care that we can during this incredible time of need.”
Ard deployed twice to Afghanistan in support of the Resolute Support mission and participated in multiple Joint Combined Exchange Training exercises in Indonesia.
Ard leaves behind his wife, Mary, and their 3-year-old daughter Reagan, according to the Post Register. The couple also is expecting a son.
Bruce Ard, mayor of the town of Ammon, Idaho, said his son joined the Army hoping to find a new challenge after completing a mission and college, according to the newspaper. He served for nine years, becoming a Green Beret.
Bruce Ard said his son remained focused on his family even when serving thousands of miles away.
“He was still just Dustin,” Bruce said, according to the newspaper. “He was a loving, kind, gentle soul, and he knew what he had to do.”
Ard’s military education includes the Basic, Advanced, and Senior Leader Courses; U.S. Army Airborne School; Military Free Fall Course; Special Operations Joint Terminal Attack Controller Course; Special Operations Sensitive Site Exploitation Course; Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape School; Korean Special Operations Language Course; and the Special Forces Qualification Course.
Ard’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal; Army Achievement Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal (second award); National Defense Service Medal; Afghanistan Campaign Medal (Campaign Star); Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon (third award); Army Service Ribbon; NATO Medal; Army Special Forces Tab; Combat Infantry Badge; Parachutist Badge and Military Free Fall Parachutist Badge.
The toll on U.S. special operators and their enablers is on a pace to be worse than last year.
This year has been the deadliest for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since the mission to the country scaled down at the start of 2015 and changed names from Operation Enduring Freedom to Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
If this latest casualty is confirmed to have been as a result of enemy fire, it would bring the number of U.S. troops killed in action this year to 15, according to Defense Department figures.
Another 86 U.S. service members have been wounded so far this year.
The U.S. military currently has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, alongside international troops, to advise and assist Afghan defense forces and to fight extremist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida.
President Donald Trump said he plans to withdraw thousands of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, but will keep 8,600 troops there for the foreseeable future, pending the outcome of U.S. peace talks with the Taliban, which appear to be in their final stages.