Community remembers fallen soldier Tyler Iubelt

It was supposed to be a morning of fun and relaxation at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. Now, southern Illinois and much of the country are grieving the loss of Private First Class Tyler Iubelt.

Iubelt grew up in Tamaroa, Illinois, a small town near Du Quoin in Perry County. The 20 year old attended Tamaroa Grade School and graduated from Pinckneyville Community High School in 2015. Iubelt entered the army after graduation, stationed at Bagram Air Force Base.

He died Saturday morning while getting ready for a fun run with other troops and contractors. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying a suicide bomber dressed as a laborer managed to enter the heavily protected base. A Taliban spokesperson says the attack had been planned for four months.

Iubelt is one of four who died. Seventeen others were injured. Staff Sergeant John W. Perry also died in Saturday’s attack. Perry and Iubelt were both stationed with the First Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas. While Iubelt had served for about a year, Perry entered the army in 2008. It was Perry’s third tour. Two American contractors also died. Their names have not been released.

Community members from Iubelt’s hometown are grieving over the loss of a longtime friend. In the small town of Tamaroa, some of his former teachers say they got to know Tyler well over the years. They say they’re in shock over losing such a bright, young man.

For students and staff walking in to Tamaroa Grade School, it’s Tyler Iubelt’s face greeting them. After finding out he was among those killed in Saturday’s bombing in Afghanistan, teachers such as Tyler’s former science teacher, Phil Hamil, say they’ve been struggling with the news.

"Shock is probably the best word. I didn’t really want to believe it, to be honest. It hits pretty close to home," said Hamil, who is now the superintendent and principal at Tamaroa Grade School. Hamil taught Tyler’s science and social studies classes in the fifth through eighth grade at the school. But he says they became more like buddies, playing practical jokes on each other over the years and talking or joking over social media.

"It seems kind of surreal. At first you’re hoping that the rumors are wrong," said Cindy Opp, who was Tyler’s language arts teacher. Opp says in a tiny town, you get to know the kids well over the years. And as a kind jokester of a kid, she says Tyler stood out.

"He could be mischievous and was always good natured and good hearted, never hurtful. He’d keep you on your toes as a teacher," Hamil said.

On a class trip, Tyler was one of the students taking funny pictures behind Opp while she napped. She says the town was proud of him when he joined the service, and losing him so suddenly is painful. But, she says what she’ll remember most will be Tyler having fun and playing jokes.

"You know, I loved seeing him in his military uniform and that he made that a goal and he made that sacrifice. And, you know, he was a part of the armed forces. But I’ll also enjoy looking back at that picture of him kind of leaning over me," Opp said.

"It hits a lot of the adults here pretty hard, because we’ve all gotten to know him. So, we’ll listen to each other and support each other, and our community, and Tyler’s family. And we want them to know that we’re thinking of and praying for all of them," Hamil said.

In the town of fewer than 1,000 people, Tyler’s death is a loss felt throughout the community and one they say won’t soon be forgotten.

Memorials for Iubelt are still being planned. At Monday night’s women’s basketball game in Tamaroa, school leaders say they’ll hold a moment of silence during the game in his honor.