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Old 09-14-2018, 09:49 AM
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Unhappy Douglas Riney died in Afghanistan when his son was 2. Now 4, the boy builds memorials

Douglas Riney died in Afghanistan when his son was 2. Now 4, the boy builds memorials to his father
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES - Published: September 14, 2018
RE: https://www.stripes.com/news/douglas...ather-1.547502

Photo link: https://www.stripes.com/polopoly_fs/..._900/image.jpg
This undated family photo shows then-Cpl. Douglas J. Riney with his wife, Kylie Riney, and their daughter, Elea, and son, James. Douglas Riney died on Oct. 19, 2016, of wounds suffered in an attack outside Kabul, Afghanistan. - COURTESY OF KYLIE RINEYWhen James Riney’s mother took him shopping for new bedding to outfit his room in their new house, the 4-year-old considered a few options: first sharks, then dinosaurs, then comic book superheroes. He passed on all three.

“Can we do superheroes like my daddy?” James asked.

Sgt. Douglas Riney, 26, was shot and killed by a suspected Taliban infiltrator in Afghanistan nearly two years ago. James barely remembers him, his mother Kylie Riney said, but his awe for him and others who have served in uniform has been shaped by memorials and ceremonies he’s attended since his father was killed.

Earlier this month, she put out a call on social media for uniform patches she hopes to use to decorate his room to honor such people. So far, one package of patches has arrived, she told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday, shortly after popular Facebook page “U.S. Army WTF! Moments” shared her request.

James, who can pinpoint his father in photos around the house, plays hero nearly every day with his sister Elea, who will turn 6 the day after the second anniversary of their father’s death.

They don whatever gear is on hand. A green “junior zookeeper” vest with cargo pockets, a toy construction helmet and rain boots have served as proxies for kiddie combat gear. They go on patrol hunting down the family dogs.

In the bathroom one night, the 4-year-old placed rain boots on a neon pink stool in front of the sink, a toy rifle pinched between their little rubber soles and a helmet in front of them — a child’s version of the battlefield cross that has become a familiar symbol of Americans killed in far-flung conflicts.

He was already asleep when his mother discovered it, and she left it up until morning, when she asked why he’d put it there.

“For my daddy in heaven,” he replied.

From father-to-be to sergeant-to-be
Born on Georgia’s Fort Stewart, Douglas Riney was in his early 20s and hadn’t yet begun dating his future wife when he decided to join the Army. His father had been a sergeant, his grandfather, too, and he was committed to serving at least until reaching the same rank.

Photo link: https://www.stripes.com/polopoly_fs/..._900/image.jpg
This undated family photo shows then-Cpl. Douglas J. Riney, who died on Oct. 19, 2016, from wounds received in an attack outside Kabul, Afghanistan. He was posthumously promoted to sergeant. - COURTESY OF KYLIE RINEY

By the time he reported for basic training in 2012, the couple were together and expecting a child. He was in training as a fueler when his daughter was born, the first of many moments he would miss for the Army.

His wife and newborn joined him in December of that year, when he was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas. His son was 4 months old in July 2014, when he deployed to Afghanistan with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment.

The deployment boded well for Douglas Riney’s career when he was promoted to corporal and saw sergeant within reach, his wife said. After returning home in early 2015, he worked toward the promotion, doing any coursework he could and taking on responsibilities.

His former platoon sergeant, retired Master Sgt. Christopher Key, recalled that he had aced an arms room course that was a challenge just to pass, officials with the cavalry regiment said this week.

“The plan was he was making it a career,” his wife said. “Everything was working out great.”

He expected to remain in the rear during the 3rd Cavalry Regiment Support Squadron’s Afghanistan rotation in June 2016, but was later told he’d be shipping out in someone else’s place, his wife said. Once in Afghanistan, he hoped to quickly pin on his third chevron.

“All he was waiting on was for (the promotion scores) to be posted,” she said. “Then he was killed.”

‘He went out as a sergeant’
He was providing “guardian angel” security for a team checking on an ammunition supply point at Camp Morehead, outside the Afghan capital, on Oct. 19, 2016. His wife said she was only briefed fully on the events that day earlier this summer.

The two U.S. soldiers and four U.S. civilians had ventured outside the coalition side of base, not aware that their mission had been scrubbed, she said. As they were getting into their vehicles after being turned away at the supply point’s gate, a man in an Afghan army uniform opened fire on them.

Civilian Rick Alford, a 20-year Army veteran who was shot, said on Facebook in the days afterward that he thought he might die. Despite being wounded himself, Army Capt. Scott Rankin had crawled over and dragged him to another vehicle so they could “get the hell out of Dodge,” Alford said.

The attacker was chased down, but killed himself before he could be caught, Kylie Riney was told.

Douglas Riney, posthumously promoted to sergeant, and Michael G. Sauro, a 40-year-old Army civilian, both succumbed to their wounds. A third civilian, Rodney Henderson, was wounded but survived.

Days later, when the promotion scores came out, Douglas Riney had made the cut. Had he lived, he likely would have been promoted within about a month.

“No matter what, he went out as a sergeant,” his widow said.

Capt. Jason Welch, a spokesman for the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, said “he absolutely earned it” by laying down his life. “We see him as a hero.”

A soldier memorialized
At a memorial service at Fort Hood in the wake of the attack, soldiers eulogized him from a podium beside a battlefield cross. A similar cross was displayed at a service held in the church he attended off base, his widow said.

There were more ceremonies. Bystanders on flag-lined streets saluted or held hands to heart during a hometown funeral procession with police cars, fire trucks and dozens of motorcycles.

Months later, officials gathered the family and dedicated part of Illinois Route 78 near his hometown of Fairview in his honor, and last month another ceremony marked the official renaming of the village post office for him.

Such scenes have left their impressions on his children, who only partially understand their significance.

James sometimes randomly salutes people, occasionally with the wrong hand, his mother said. He and his sister don’t quite know right from left, but they know to stand for the national anthem and hold one of those hands over their hearts.

“They know if they want to talk to him, we go to the cemetery,” she said. “They know he died a hero.”

And they know they’re missing someone, like a partner for Elea at her school’s daddy-daughter dance.

Living now amid cornfields far away from places where soldiers are a common sight, they sometimes ask, when they see a man in an Army uniform, whether it’s their daddy. They are full of questions, Kylie Riney said.

“It’s tough watching it for the fact that I know that they don’t fully understand,” she said.

When the community raised $1,200 for the family, she donated it to the local library, partly to buy 55 books to help spouses and children cope with military life or a parent’s death, said Rebecca Seaborn, the library’s assistant director.

Kylie Riney hopes to use donated military and public safety uniform patches not just as decoration for James’ “hero bedroom” but as a memorial to those whose deaths have left holes in other families, too.

“In our eyes, they’re all heroes,” she said.

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Personal note: Our respects to the Riney Family and Friends for their loss.

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