A Guilderland High School graduate and father of two died Sunday in Afghanistan after his patrol was attacked by enemy forces in southeastern Afghanistan.
Specialist Rafael A. Nieves Jr., 22, of Albany died of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Nieves was on mounted patrol in the Paktika province at the time of the attack.
Nieves was an infantryman assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. He was stationed at Fort Campbell in Kentucky before being deployed overseas.
Nieves joined the Army in August 2009 and was a decorated soldier. His awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Bronze Service Star, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Army Service Ribbon.
Nieves is survived by his wife, Sarah McKinney, formerly of Guilderland; his daughter, Emma Grace Nieves; and his son, Rafael A. Nieves III. The family resides in Oak Grove, Ky., according to the military.
Nieves’ father, Rafael A. Nieves Sr., is from Schenectady. His mother, Tina R. Roman lives in Bayonne, N.J., according to the Army.
Attempts to reach family members were unsuccessful Monday. A call to Guilderland High School Principal Thomas Lutsic was not returned Monday afternoon.
Just hours after Nieves’ death was reported, a video tribute to him popped up on Youtube.com. The five-minute video shows pictures of Nieves with fellow soldiers, embracing his wife and his infant daughter; attempts to contact the user who produced the piece were unsuccessful.
There were reports of a large clash between insurgents and joint forces at Sra Roza district late Sunday night. Insurgents attacked a military convoy in the area, sparking a firefight where both sides used light and heavy arms.
A Taliban spokesman later claimed that his forces killed several coalition soldiers and destroyed 10 vehicles, according to a report from Wakht News Agency, a Kabul-Afghanistan based independent media source. It was unclear if Nieves was involved in the battle and officials from his unit could not be reached for comment.
The Paktika province was recently the focus of an effort by the U.S. military to secure the border with Pakistan. Less than a week before Nieves’ death, Gen. David Petraeus visited with soldiers from his battalion and commended them for fighting valiantly in a dangerous area of the country, according to a report published by the military.
“You all have done a magnificent job over the course of the last year [against] very difficult terrain and a very difficult enemy — right up against the border,” he said. “You have truly distinguished yourself in that fight, you’ve made inroads, especially as you come to the end of your tour.”
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