For Katherine Rawl, today will mark the beginning of one of the most trying times of her life.
The body of her husband, 30-year-old 1st Lt. Ryan Davis Rawl, was scheduled to return to Columbia. He and two other South Carolina Guardsmen were killed last week by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.
The most difficult part, her mother Kathy Belknap told The State , will be explaining it all to their 4-year-old daughter, Callie.
“These next three days are going to be really hard,” Belknap said. “Viewing the body. Meeting people. The 21-gun salute. All those things are going to be very heart-rending. But having to tell that little girl… .”
The three soldiers — Rawl, Sgt. J.D. Meador, 36, of Lexington, and Sgt.1st Class Matthew Bradford Thomas, 30, of Easley — were killed when a suicide bomber wearing an explosives-filled vest attacked a checkpoint in a crowded market in Khost Province. In addition to the three soldiers, two Afghan police officers and at least 14 civilians were killed.
The three soldiers were members of the Timmonsville-based 133rd Military Police Company, nicknamed the Palmetto Regulators. The unit was deployed in September to train Afghan police security forces. Rawl was a Richland County sheriff’s deputy when not deployed. Meador, who also had young children, was a former correctional officer at the Lexington County Detention Center.
Five other S.C. Guardsmen were wounded in the attack. The S.C. National Guard did not release the names of the wounded, citing federal regulations. But a spokesman issued a statement that the injuries included “broken bones, shrapnel wounds and amputations.”
It was the bloodiest day of the Afghan war for the S.C. National Guard, which has deployed more than 12,000 troops there since the war began in 2001.
One of those wounded was Devin Davis, 25, of Chesterfield.
His wife, Christie, 25, was in Bethesda, Md., on Wednesday waiting for him to arrive from a hospital in Germany. She said her husband had massive wounds throughout his body — both legs with multiple broken bones, abdominal wounds, burns, shrapnel wounds, just about every conceivable injury a body can absorb from an explosion.
“He’s in very bad shape,” she told The State.
Davis already has undergone 12 surgeries in the past week.
“And there are lots more to come because they haven’t done anything to his legs,” Christie said.
She said she was anxious to see her husband, who was scheduled to arrive Wednesday night and be taken to the emergency room at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
“There has been so much confusion,” she said. “So much frustration. It’s hard to depend on other people for information.”
Gov. Nikki Haley has ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff from sunup to sundown beginning today until the final memorial service for the three soldiers is held Sunday.
Memorial funds have been set up to help the families of Meador and Rawl.
The Callie and Caleb Rawl Memorial Fund was established by the Belknap family to raise money for the Rawl children, ages 4 and 2. Contributions can be made through S.C. State Credit Union branches.
The Lexington Fallen Heroes Fund — for both the Rawl and Meador families — has been opened at First Citizens Bank. Donations can be made at any branch.
“Ryan and I were friends years ago at Lexington High School and I felt I needed to do something for Katherine and their children,” said Karla Sturkie, who is organizing a fund with the Lexington VFW. A benefit for the families also will be held July 4 at the Lexington VFW.
Sturkie said she spoke with Katherine Rawl recently “and she’s actually doing well. She is extremely grateful for everything everyone’s done to support the family. She’s just focusing on the kids right now.”
A benefit fund also has been set up to assist the Davis family with Devin’s recovery. Donations to that fund also can be made through any First Citizens Bank branch.
The families of the deceased receive about $500,000 in insurance and death benefits. Injured soldiers and their families also are supported by insurance and Veterans Administration, but often face months or years of uncovered expenses as they rehabilitate from their wounds.
“It is an extreme hardship on the families of the injured soldiers,” said Jane Pigg, a Cheraw radio station owner who started the Devin Davis Benefit Account. “(Families) put their jobs on hold, their sources of income on hold to go care for their loved ones.”
Christie Davis said she visited Thomas’ wife, Jana, and their 2-year-old son, Kayden, the night Jana received the news of her husband’s death. At the same time, she was worrying desperately about her own husband — the two were married just before he was deployed.
“There are no words for how hard this has been and how emotional it has been,” she said. “It has been hell and I would not wish it on anyone.”