The Pentagon has identified two U.S. soldiers killed in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on Saturday.

Staff Sgt. Ian P. McLaughlin and Pfc. Miguel A. Villalon died after their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device. Both soldiers were on their first combat deployments.

McLaughlin, 29, was from Newport News, Virginia, while Villalon, 21, was a native of Joliet, Illinois. Both soldiers were assigned to the 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the bomb blast occurred close to Kandahar Airfield in the early morning hours. Two other U.S. soldiers, who remain unidentified, were wounded in the attack.

The deaths are the first for U.S. forces in the new year. In 2019, the U.S. military’s combat casualties in Afghanistan were the highest in five years.

The deceased soldiers’ brigade commander, Col. Art Sellers, said in a statement that they lived by the Army engineer motto, “essayons,” which means “let us try” in French.

“Their loved ones are now surrounded by a caring community offering comfort and assistance through this difficult time," Sellers added.

McLaughlin joined the Army in 2012. His first assignment was with the 62nd Engineer Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas, as a horizontal construction engineer. In 2016, he was reassigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, where he ultimately became a squad leader.

This was McLaughlin’s first combat deployment. His awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with “C” device, the Combat Action Badge and the Basic Parachutist Badge. He was also a 2018 graduate of the Advanced Airborne School Jumpmaster Course.

McLaughlin is survived by his wife and four children.

Villalon joined the Army in 2018 to be a combat engineer and reported to the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion as his first assignment.

His awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Achievement Medal with “C” device and the Combat Action Badge.

Villalon is survived by his mother, who lives in Chicago, and his father, who lives in Brownsville, Texas.

“These paratroopers represent the very best of our nation and our Army," Maj. Gen. James Mingus, the 82nd Airborne Division Commander said in a separate statement.

“Three-time volunteers, they went when our nation called and paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Mingus added, referencing the soldiers’ combined enlistments.

Soldiers accounted for 14 of the Defense Department’s 17 hostile deaths in Afghanistan in 2019, according to Pentagon figures from December. The other three killed last year were Marines. More than 190 U.S. troops were wounded in the country last year.

The two most recent deaths have not been added to the Pentagon’s casualty statistics yet. However, the figures note that three troops have already been wounded in the country in 2020.

Currently, roughly 13,000 U.S. troops are deployed to Afghanistan. U.S. and Taliban representatives are engaged in ongoing peace negotiations, which President Donald Trump previously ended in September following another Taliban attack that killed an Army paratrooper near Bagram Air Field. The talks were restarted earlier in December.

Kyle Rempfer was an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.

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