Spc. Chris McCann
2nd BCT PAO, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI)
CAMP STRIKER, Iraq — National Guard and military reserve Soldiers probably enjoy a closer bond than active-duty Soldiers in the same unit. They tend to be natives of the same area, know each other from school or work and perhaps even enlisted together.
So it’s not surprising how many tears were shed at the memorial service Jan. 6 at Camp Striker, Iraq, that honored Sgt. Thomas Vandling Jr., of the 1113th Tactical Psychological Operations Team, 1110th Tactical Psychological Operations Detachment, 303rd Tactical Psychological Operations Company.
Vandling, a native of Pittsburgh, deployed with the 1st Marine Division during the assault on Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He deployed again for OIF 06-08, supporting the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (AA) and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI).
Maj. John Pelczarski, a native of Toledo, Ohio and commander of the 303rd TPC, remembered Vandling fondly.
“He was excited to deploy as part of an organic unit,” Pelczarski said. “He did everything he had to do to deploy with his team and company.
“He was an outstanding Soldier – professional, competent, and enthusiastic about his job. He always gave his best.”
“I was proud to be his commander,” Pelczarski said, “and to know him as long as I did.”
Staff Sgt. Mark Anthony Aulenbacher, a native of Northeast, Penn., worked with Vandling in the 1113th TPT.
“My time with Tom was precious,” said Aulenbacher. “He saved my life numerous times….Late one night after a mission, he told me, ‘Remember me and smile. Don’t change your path or what you’re doing, because I’ll be with you the rest of the way.’”
Staff Sgt. Doug Gearheart of Pittsburgh, another close friend, was slated to speak at the memorial, but could not due to mission constraints. His comments were read by Staff Sgt. Patrick Byers of Oakmont, Penn., a team leader with the 1131st TPT.
Gearheart recalled Vandling as moving through life “with a grace and ease and total lack of self-consciousness,” and that he balanced his civilian job, Army work and personal life “while still managing to have a great time on the south side of Pittsburgh.”
Company members remembered him as a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, the computer game ‘Civilization’, Tae Kwon Do and weightlifting. He held bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Philosophy and was planning to pursue a master’s degree.
Vandling’s awards and decorations include a Bronze Star Medal, two Purple Heart Medals, a Combat Action Badge, an Iraq Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service and Expeditionary medals, an Army Commendation Medal with a V device, an Army Commendation Medal, an Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal, a Navy Achievement Medal and two Armed Forces Reserve Medals with M devices.
He is survived by his parents Thomas Sr. and Dianne Vandling, his sister Elizabeth and brothers Mikey and Jimmy.
“Sgt. Vandling remains a positive force in our lives,” said 1110th TPD commander Capt. Teresa Haney, a native of Fort Ord, Calif. “He was a young man with the ability to keep things simple. He was always pleasant, always professional.”