James McLaughlin, MPRI Contractor, Killed in Afghanistan Attack
His wife, Sandy McLaughlin, said Thursday she was notified that he had been shot to death, but was not told any of the circumstances.
“The only thing I know is an Afghan pilot opened fire and my husband was shot and killed,” she said.
Her husband retired as a lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Army in 2007, after 25 years in the service.
The following year, he began training helicopter pilots in Afghanistan for L-3 MPRI, an Alexandria, Va., division of the giant defense contractor, said Rick Kiernan, a vice president of communications for L-3.
“He was one of 12 trainers we have,” Kiernan said. “Having been a retired lieutenant colonel, his skills were in aviation.”
McLaughlin, who had lived in Sonoma County since 1987, was also an avid ham radio enthusiast. He helped set up a digital communications system for the ham operators who are part of the Sonoma County Office of Emergency Services disaster communications network, said Ken Harrison of Santa Rosa, a friend for 20 years and fellow ham operator.
In Afghanistan, McLaughlin worked on the U.S. Army Military Auxiliary Radio System, a Department of Defense-funded ham radio program that helped keep U.S. troops in contact with family at home.
“He didn’t talk too awful much about the danger,” Harrison said. “I think he liked to downplay that end of that. He didn’t want people to worry.”
McLaughlin’s death sent shock waves through the close-knit ranks of ham radio operators. He had been home in Santa Rosa two weeks ago before returning to Kabul.
“My gut hurts,” Harrison said. “He was just in town. I am upset that I didn’t get to see him.”
Wednesday’s attack was the fourth in the past two weeks in which someone wearing an Afghan security-force uniform struck from within a government compound.
The shooting occurred during a morning meeting between American and Afghan officers. Nine Americans were killed and five Afghan soldiers were wounded.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces killed the attacker in a gunfight.
L-3’s Kiernan said the shooting occurred in what has been considered a secure compound in Kabul.
“They are looking into the incident to find out what would have motivated the perpetrator,” said L-3’s Kiernan.
The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, identifying the assailant as a Taliban militant named Azizullah from a district of Kabul province.
The gunman’s brother insisted he was not a Taliban sympathizer. The attacker, identified as Ahmad Gul Sahebi, 48, was an officer who had served as a pilot in the Afghan military for two decades and was distressed over his personal finances, said the brother, Dr. Mohammad Hassan Sahibi.
“He was under economic pressures and recently he sold his house. He was not in a normal frame of mind because of these pressures,” Sahibi said. “He was going through a very difficult period of time in his life.”
Since March 2009, 48 NATO troops and military contractors have been killed in at least 16 attacks in which Afghans have turned their weapons on coalition forces, for reasons investigators later attributed to battlefield stress and personal animosity toward coalition soldiers, rather than Taliban infiltration.
Sandy McLaughlin said she was naturally concerned about his work in the war-torn country.
“This job was offered, he was using his military background and he was doing something he loved,” she said. “He loved doing the work.”
The couple had been married 28 years. They have three adult children, Adam McLaughlin, Eve McLaughlin-Suttif and James McLaughlin, all of Santa Rosa.
Sandy McLaughlin said her husband’s body is being brought back to Dover, Del., on Friday and then will be returned to Santa Rosa.