December 1, 2010

Weatherford soldier's kin missed last chance to talk to him

Pfc. Austin Staggs, 19, of Weatherford was among six U.S. servicemen killed by an Afghan police officer, his family said.

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Editor's note: The report was originally published in the Star-Telegram on Dec. 8, 2010.

Army Pfc. Austin Staggs tried to call his mom during the Thanksgiving holiday, a truly long-distance call.

Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, to Weatherford.

But his mother and stepfather were in Llano on a deer hunting trip and missed his cellphone call. Pfc. Staggs would have understood, no doubt, since no one loved a good hunt more than he did.

That missed conversation became even more heartbreaking for Pfc. Staggs' family when the Army went to his mother's house in Parker County on Monday to inform her that her only child was gone.

On his first deployment, Pfc. Staggs, just 19, is believed to have been killed, along with five other U.S. servicemen, by an Afghan border police officer.

The Defense Department had not released any information on the casualties' names, but his family confirmed it Wednesday.

"My daughter was just crushed that she didn't get to talk to him," Pfc. Staggs' grandmother Marion Buckner said. "But I told her: 'You've got his voice on your phone now. You can listen to him anytime you want.'"

The body of Pfc. Staggs returned to the U.S. on Wednesday, and his wife, mother, father and other relatives traveled to Dover Air Force Base, Del.

Funeral arrangements were still in limbo, but his grandmother said he had told his wife that he wanted to be buried next to a cousin at Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Born in Fort Worth, Pfc. Staggs grew up in Weatherford. He attended Weatherford High School but graduated from North Hills Private School in Millsap in 2008.

A soldier for only about 18 months, he was in the field artillery with the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky. His unit deployed to Afghanistan about three months ago.

He hoped to return to Weatherford for R&R in January for his 20th birthday, Buckner said.

"His birthday would have been 1-11-11, and we were really going to celebrate," she said.

The shootings occurred at a border police outpost in the mountains on the Pakistan border, according to news accounts. The shooter, on the payroll of the Afghan police since 2008, was killed in the shootout. The Taliban took credit for the killings, saying he was a "sleeper agent," but officials with the border police denied that.

Buckner spent much of Wednesday reading messages posted to her grandson's Facebook page and finding comfort in how much others thought of him.

"So many people have such happy memories of being a part of his life," she said.

Pfc. Staggs is survived by his wife, Sheena of Clarksville, Tenn.; a 2-year-old son, Kallen, of Weatherford; mother and stepfather Kaye and Judd Jordan of Weatherford and father Byram Staggs of Georgia.

Chris Vaughn, 817-390-7547

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