Two Combat Vets Among Those Killed in Vegas Massacre
- In this June 6, 2015 photo, U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Charleston Hartfield of the 100th Quartermaster Company poses for a photo at Rainbow Falls near Hilo, Hawaii. (Sgt. Walter Lowell/U.S. Army National Guard via AP)
- This photo provided by Robert Alexander shows Christopher Roybal who was one of the people killed in Las Vegas after a gunman opened fire on Oct. 1, 2017, at a music festival. (Robert Alexander via AP)
Christopher Roybal and Charleston Hartfield didn't know each other, but both knew something few others in the Las Vegas parking lot could even imagine but would soon experience -- what it is like to come under fire from an unseen enemy.
In his last Facebook post in July, Roybal, a Navy veteran who had been attached to the Army's 25th Infantry Division in Afghanistan, said taking fire is "a nightmare no amount of drugs, no amount of therapy and no amount of drunk talks with your war veteran buddies will ever be able to escape."
Hartfield, a Las Vegas police officer, also knew the combat nightmare as a veteran of service with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq.
According to police, the enemy Sunday night was 64-year-old Stephen Paddock. He fired burst after rapid-fire burst on the country music festival in the parking lot below the busted-out windows of his makeshift sniper's nest on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino.
Paddock killed himself before the SWAT team could get to him, police said.
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Roybal, 28, and Hartfield, 34, were among the 58 killed in the parking lot massacre that also left more than 500 wounded and injured. The official death toll of 59 includes Paddock.
Roybal, of Corona, California, was staying with his mother, Debby Allen, at the Mandalay; they went separately to the "Route 91 Harvest" outdoor show.
Hartfield was off duty and had joined the crowd of about 20,000 to listen to Jason Aldean and others who were performing.
'He Was a Special Human Being'
Hartfield joined the Army in July 2000 and in July 2001 reported to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he became a paratrooper with the "All American" 82nd Airborne Division, said Lt. Col. Mickey Kirschenbaum of the Nevada National Guard.
In 2003, he deployed to Iraq as part of Task Force Falcon with the 82nd Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team. While he was in Iraq, the 2nd BCT was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for heroism in action against an armed enemy. Hartfield, who achieved the rank of sergeant first class, was the recipient of two Army Commendation Medals and five Achievement Medals.
He transferred to 100th Quartermaster (QM) Company of the Nevada National Guard in January 2014 and was still serving with the unit when he was killed.
In a statement, the 82nd Airborne said Hartfield "was an All American Paratrooper for life and, as with all who wear the AA patch, he and his family remain part of our legacy even in death."
"By all accounts, he was a special human being, someone who carried the best virtues and characteristics from this Division with him beyond his service here," the statement said.
To the Army, he was Sgt. 1st Class Hartfield. To the Las Vegas community, he was Officer Hartfield. To the kids on the Henderson Cowboys youth division football team, he was just "Coach Chucky."
The Henderson Cowboys said in a Facebook post, "Coach Hartfield touched many lives both on and off the field. He was a great man who we all lost way too early. Players and alumni, Coach Chucky would want you to keep to the plan and keep moving forward."
Stan King, whose son was coached by Hartfield, called him "seriously one of the nicest guys ever." He was "the most true-blue American guy" he'd ever met, King told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Brig. Gen. William Burks, adjutant general of the Nevada National Guard, called him "the epitome of a citizen-soldier."
Hartfield, who had a son and daughter, "lived to serve the public and protect his family," Burks said.
"Sgt. 1st Class Hartfield epitomizes everything good about America," said Brig. Gen. Zachary Doser, commander of the Nevada Army National Guard.
'The Anger Is All That's Left'
Roybal, who would have celebrated his 29th birthday this week, joined the Navy in September 2007 as a master-at-arms specializing in force protection, according to his service record.
While assigned to Kitsap, Roybal deployed to Afghanistan's southwestern Kandahar Province with the Army's 25th Infantry Division as an individual augmentee, a temporary assignment to a downrange unit designed to utilize a sailor's particular skill set, a Navy official told Task & Purpose.
While he was with the 25th ID, Roybal earned an Army Commendation Medal, a Combat Action Ribbon, and a Meritorious Unit Commendation.
In his last Facebook post in July, Roybal talked of the question he and other combat vets are often asked: "What's it like being shot at?"
It is "a question people ask because it's something that less than one percent of our American population will ever experience, especially one on a daily basis," Roybal said.
"My response has always been the same, not one filled with a sense of pride or ego, but an answer filled with truth and genuine fear/anger," he said.
Initially, there was excitement, Roybal said of first coming under fire while on patrol with Stryker combat vehicles.
"As the fights continue and as they as increase in numbers and violence, that excitement fades and the anger is all that's left," he said.
"The anger stays, long after your friends have died, the lives you've taken are buried and your boots are placed neatly in a box in some storage unit," Roybal said.
You're left "still covered in the dirt you've refused to wash off for fear of forgetting the most raw emotions you as a human being will ever feel again," he wrote.
'I Feel Like I'm Living in a Nightmare'
On Sunday night, Roybal had gone ahead to the show and was watching with some local firefighter friends while his mother, Debby Allen, rested at the hotel. They were trying to link up by text when the shooting started.
Allen, 49, was still looking for him when a woman next to her was shot. She was swept up in the stampeding crowd and found herself outside the surrounding fence.
"I desperately wanted to go back in to find him. Nobody would let me go back in; they were pulling me away. I kept screaming, 'My son! My son!' But they said, 'You can't go back into the gunfire,' " she told The New York Daily News.
Hours later, her daughter was contacted by one of Roybal's firefighter friends. The daughter relayed the message that Chris had been shot in the chest.
The firefighter friend "said he rendered first aid but saw the life go out of my son," Allen said. "I wouldn't believe it" until she received confirmation from the coroner's office.
"I feel like I'm living in a nightmare; I want to wake up so badly," she said.
Roybal left behind his Facebook post on the horrors of combat. Hartfield left behind a book he wrote on the meaning of his life as a soldier and a police officer: "Memoirs of a Public Servant."
The Amazon review says the book relates "the thoughts, feelings, and interactions of one police officer in the busiest and brightest city in the world, Las Vegas."
For Officer Hartfield, "Some calls are over in an instant while others stick with you forever," the review states..
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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