Word was received from the Pentagon Tuesday, Jan. 3, that U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad R. Regelin, 24, of Anderson was fatally injured about 11:15 a.m. PST Monday, Jan. 2, while serving as a bomb disposal expert in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan.
Regelin was the first NATO forces fatality of 2012. By Friday, Jan. 6, the Associated Press had reported the deaths of nine international troops during the first week of the new year, according to ABC News.
U.N. officials estimate improvised bombs and suicide attacks killed at least 544 NATO troops in Afghanistan during 2011. Of that number, at least 184 were from California, according to iCasualties.org, a private non-profit group that tracks the number of combatants wounded or killed in Afghanistan.
Parents Shirene and Scott Regelin of Anderson were notified of their son’s death shortly after 2 p.m. Monday when four uniformed representatives of the U.S. Armed Forces showed up on their doorstep.
“My heart is absolutely breaking at this time!! I wish someone could tell me it is not true!!! I don’t think I will ever get the picture out of my mind of the four men standing at the door to give me the news. I just want him to come home and let me hug him. I honestly do not know how I am going to get through this!!” Shirene Regelin posted on Facebook at 8:18 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 3.
Within minutes, family and close family friends were responding with condolences and offers of assistance.
One of the four men standing outside the Regelin’s door in Anderson was Master Chief Lee Morrison, a former commander of Chad Regelin’s unit at the U.S. Naval Base in San Diego. Scott and Shirene Regelin met Morrison while attending a USO ceremony Oct. 6 in Washington, D.C. Morrison told the USO then that Chad Regelin was one of his group’s “top performers.”
“He exemplifies the EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) warrior in all facets during combat operations and at home. Regelin is easily the most selfless EOD technician at my command,” Morrison wrote in an email back in October when the USO honored Regelin as its 2011 Sailor of the Year.
“Every chief petty officer and team member would be proud to serve with such a warrior,” Morrison’s email concluded.
According to Justin Regelin, 31, also of Anderson, his youngest brother Chad Regelin had called the family from Marine Corps Special Operations Company Bravo, located in Kandahar, Afghanistan, just an hour before the roadside bomb detonated.
Just days before he called, Chad Regelin informed family members during that call that he had reenlisted for another six years, his brother Ryan Regelin told USO reporter Jeanette Steele.
“He was a thrill junkie,” Ryan Regelin said of his sibling. “He said he hates sitting at home. He loved what he did.”
But Chad Regelin was also well aware of the risks that a bomb technician takes just by showing up to work each day. So much so that he did not consider it fair to even date because he was deplayed so often, older sibling Ryan Regelin offered.
“He called us while he was on watch. He was really upbeat because he had just gotten his orders to come back stateside on Feb. 15. He told us that he had about a week to go (in Kandahar) before they could helicopter in the replacement team,” Justin Regelin said Jan. 4.
Shortly after the phone call ended, Chad Regelin and the rest of his team split into squads to do their routine patrols. A bomb explosion drew their attention to a spot beside a road just outside of the NATO military base.
While Chad Regelin and his teammates were sifting through the debris and bomb crater for any kind of forensic evidence that would link the bomb to who had made it, a secondary explosion from a “direct switch” device exploded, fatally injuring Chad Regelin, his brother recounted from a briefing the family recieved.
“Chad received the brunt of the blast. He suffered some broken bones, but they believe he died from head injuries. They were able to airlift him out of there and he was conscious for about a half-hour before he died in a military hospital,” Justin Regelin said.
Chad Regelin’s body was flown to Frankfurt, Germany, and then to Delawar’s Dover Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C., where military-trained mortuary personnel were to prepare the sailor’s body in a dress uniform before flying it home to Anderson. The process was to take four and five days, Justin Regelin said.
“Yesterday was pretty tough for the family,” Justin Regelin said Wednesday, Jan. 4. “I’ve been through a time of sadness. It’s tough to lose your littlest brother. But he said he was at peace with what he was doing (as a bomb disposal expert.) That is what he loved to do.”
A memorial service is set for 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Anderson stake at 4075 Riverside Ave. in Anderson. Burial with full military honors will follow a 1 p.m. service inside the chapel at the Northern California Veterans Cemetery in Igo, Justin Regelin said.
Seating in the chapel is limited to 125 people.
Cemetery officials confirmed late Thursday, Jan. 5, that California Gov. Jerry Brown’s staff was making enquiries about someone from the governor’s office attending the memorial service.
Meanwhile, family members are still adjusting to their loss.
“It is just hard to know that someone was waiting to pull the trigger that killed him,” Justin Regelin said of his brother.
Recognized by the USO in October as its 2011 Sailor of the Year, Chad Regelin was serving as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician with Mobile Unit Three in southern Afghanistan.
The USO recognized him for heroic actions during his first tour, from August 2010 through March 2011, when he “personally located and destroyed 24 IEDs (improvised exploding devices or roadside bombs), trained 13 commando engineers in counter-IED tactics and fought in more than 20 direct fire engagements,” according to the USO’s 70th anniversary banquet program given to guests at the Oct. 6 event in Washington, D.C.
During a two-day stretch of intense fighting during that same period, Chad Regelin remained calm as insurgent fighters attacked his 10-person unit as Regelin was in the process of disarming a 60-pound bomb found in a booby-trapped building, according to Cmdr. Charles Andrews, who nominated Regelin for the USO honor.
“His outstanding situational awareness and keen attention to detail in a combat environment undoubtedly saved the lives of his teammates. His leadership and performance under fire far exceeded his pay grade,” the base commander wrote in the nomination entry form.
Chad Regelin was unable to attend the awards ceremony as he was serving a second tour of duty in Afghanistan as a replacement for another bomb disposal expert who had been injured. When USO officials announced this at the ceremony, the banquet’s nearly 1,000 attendees burst into a spontaneous standing ovation to honor Regelin’s dedication, the USO reporter writes.
Regelin’s parents, sister and one of two older brothers made the trip back east to tour the White House, Pentagon and U.S. Capitol buildings prior to the banquet held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
“The USO family is deeply saddened to learn of U.S. Navy Petty Offer Chad R. Regelin’s death,” noted USO President Sloan Gibson, who was quoted in a story published Wednesday, Jan. 4, and written by Christian Pelusi.
“The USO was honored to hear Chad’s story and meet his family. We know that he was an inspiration to family, friends and those with whom he served. That night, Chad and his family became heroes to all of us here at the USO,” Gibson stated further.
“We are so honored to have spent time with the Regelins. Our thoughts and prayers are with them now,” Gibson added sadly.
Chad Regelin was stationed at Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 3 at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, states an official death notice issued by the public affairs office of the U.S. Department of Defense at the Pentagon.
A 2005 graduate of Anderson Union High School, Regelin enlisted in the Navy in 2006. After attending the Navy’s bomb disposal training course, Regelin was assigned to the San Diego area Naval base in 2008. He was deployed once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan, Navy records show.
While in high school, Regelin helped launch the school’s Surf Club and was named Outstanding Senior for the Anderson Cubs varsity football squad. In eighth-grade at Anderson Middle School, Chad Regelin wrote a report on the proper handling and dangers of pyrotechnics, recalled his father Scott Regelin.