Ryan Connolly

Ryan J. Connolly—April 2010 Shipment Honoree

Santa Rosa paratrooper buried with honors

The Associated Press
Ryan J. Connolly
Ryan J. Connolly

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — A 24-year-old Army paratrooper who grew up in Santa Rosa and died last month in Afghanistan was buried Monday with full military honors.

Ryan James Connolly had recently been promoted to sergeant and had 14 days left in his tour in Afghanistan when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb on June 24, according to the Department of Defense. He was riding with four other troops when the bomb went off in the town of Khogyani near the border of Pakistan, killing him and another soldier.

Connolly served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Italy with units in Germany. His widow and 1-year-old daughter were brought to California on a military flight from Germany.

Ryan James Connolly, Medic, United States Army, KIA in Afghanistan

June 26, 2008 by Da-Chief
Filed under Army News, Corpsman.com News, Military Information

Ryan James Connolly, a 24-year-old Army medic who grew up in Santa Rosa, was killed by a plastic land mine in a remote area of Afghanistan, family members said Wednesday.

Connolly, who was promoted recently to the rank of sergeant, served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade based outside the town of Khogyani in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border.  He was riding in a vehicle with four other troops when the mine exploded Tuesday afternoon (Afghanistan time). One other soldier was killed and three were wounded, said his stepfather, Robert Nelson of Vacaville.

Ryan J. Connolly
Ryan J. Connolly

The combat medic had just two weeks left on his one-year deployment to Afghanistan, with orders to report to the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey.  Improvised explosive devices, including plastic mines that are virtually undetectable, have become a constant source of bloodshed in Afghanistan.  According to the Associated Press, nearly 2,000 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year in Afghanistan – many of them killed by mines and bombs detonated next to convoys.

“He was a really strong young man – strong physically, mentally and morally, heart and soul – and a loving father,” Nelson said.  He said Connolly’s wife, Stephi, lives in Bamberg, Germany, with their 1-year-daughter, Kayla.

Connolly graduated from Piner High School in Santa Rosa, and joined the Army in 2005.

He had survived multiple firefights in Afghanistan. Just a few days ago, he phoned his father, mortgage broker Jim Connolly of Santa Rosa, and described being ambushed. His unit was pinned down in a firefight for hours after they walked into a village.

Connolly had taken a leave in April, bringing his family to Santa Rosa. During that trip, he bought a 1970 Chevy Nova and began to restore it. He had a passion for baseball, classic muscle cars, NASCAR racing and all things mechanical.  “He was in good spirits then,” Nelson said, “and looking forward to finishing the last three months and coming back home.”

Ryan Connolly
Ryan Connolly

Soon after Connolly returned to Afghanistan, Nelson said, a 10-year-old boy with a bomb blew himself up in a crowded square. Connolly was among the first medics on the scene – rescuing about 20 Afghans.  Nelson said his stepson had grown weary of the abject poverty and violence in Afghanistan, which Connolly described as “11th century with cars and cell phones. He hated the way women and children were treated there as chattel. He was a good man.”

The medic apparently never tired of practicing his trade.  “He loved helping out in Afghanistan, sewing up the kids,” Nelson said. “It broke his heart when he didn’t have enough medicine for a whole village.”  Connolly’s mother, Robin Nelson, lives in Vacaville. His brother, Mike Connolly, lives in Santa Rosa, and his sister, Kelly Connolly, lives in San Francisco.

“He was the best brother anyone could have,” Kelly Connolly said. “Very protective, always looking out for my best interest. He was a great husband and father. He loved his daughter.”

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