As he was graduating from Franklinton High School five years ago, Dillon Baldridge started bulking up. Strong but skinny at the time, Baldridge was joining the Army and needed to put on a few pounds in order to enlist. At first he planned to enter the Rangers School, a famously rigorous and difficult training program for elite soldiers. It melts away pounds, but Baldridge didn’t have any to spare.
“He knew he wanted to be in the Army, but he didn’t want to just be a soldier, he wanted to join the Rangers,” said Rick Smith, Baldridge’s principal at Youngsville Elementary who kept in touch over the years. “There’s a weight limit where you have to be so big. So he started working out and doing all kinds of weight lifting. He had to gain 30 pounds just to get into the Rangers program. He busted his butt just to get the chance to bust his butt.”
Baldridge, 22, a Corporal from Youngsville in Franklin County was one of three soldiers killed June 10 in the Peka Valley, Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan. Also killed were Sgt. Eric M. Houck, 25, of Baltimore, Md.; and Sgt. William M. Bays, 29 of Barstow, Ca. Reports from national outlets say the three were killed when an Afghan soldier opened fire in an apparent inside attack. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
They were assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Company D, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.
Baldridge, a 2012 graduate of Franklinton High School, was offered a spot in Rangers School multiple times, his brother Zach Palmer said, but by then he decided to go another route. His family was in Dover, De Monday to receive his body, Palmer said.
“My brother did what he loved and did it with the best of his ability,” Palmer said. “He enjoyed his time serving and we are all proud of him for the sacrifice he made.”
As a principal, Smith said it’s sometimes hard to remember every student over a 30 year career, but that he could never forget Baldridge, calling him fun loving and saying he had tons of personality.
“He was one of those kids who always wanted to do the right thing because it was the right thing,” Smith said. “He was a great kid. He knew he wanted to be in the Army to start. He wanted to be a soldier. He was a super nice, polite kid, the kind you wanted to be your next door neighbor.”
On Facebook, his father Chris Baldridge and step-mother Jessie Baldridge posted pictures of Dillon and said they would honor him the rest of their lives.
In a release, the Army said Baldridge was posthumously promoted to sergeant.
“Today, as we grieve, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Cpl. Baldridge, Sgt. Houck and Sgt. Bays. We take this as a family loss,” said Maj. Gen. Andrew Poppas, Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell. “In the days ahead, the 101st soldiers and the Rakkasans will continue the fight against terrorism with unbridled determination. Our soldiers are battle-hardened and committed to the defense of our nation and the freedoms for which we fight.”
Drew Jackson; 919-829-4577; @jdrewjackson