By Pat Bywater
“Nobody wants to die,” said Jim Fike, reflecting on his son’s death as the cameras of WPXI-NBC Pittsburgh captured every word. “Nobody wants to lose their life. But if he had to do it, this is how he would have chosen to go. He had a great love for this country, a great respect for this country, and he always felt he was doing the right thing.”
Pennsylvania National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Robert Fike of Conneautville was killed Friday while on patrol in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber. The 38-year-old Edinboro University of Pennsylvania graduate and corrections officer at the state prison in Albion leaves behind a daughter, Mackenzie Bliscik of Meadville, who is entering seventh grade, and family including his father and mother in the Pittsburgh suburb of Trafford.
Also killed in the blast was Staff Sgt. Bryan A. Hoover, 29, of West Elizabeth, and numerous civilians. Pfc. Anthony Spangler of Howard was wounded and has returned to duty.
Fike and Hoover, who will be posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, are the 35th and 36th soldiers of the Pennsylvania National Guard killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fike is the second Crawford County resident to be killed serving in Afghanistan and the fourth to die serving in the Global War on Terror.
Fike was among a group of soldiers on foot patrol in Bullard Bazaar, Zabul Province, when the attack occurred at 10:25 p.m., according to the Pennsylvania Guard Public Affairs Office. Fike was a military police officer who worked with the state Guard’s only MP unit based in Johnstown/Greensburg, according to Public Affairs Officer Maj. Cory Angell. However, since January of this year Fike was attached to Connellsville-based Company C, 1st Battalion, 110th Infantry, with a mission of providing security with Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul.
The reconstruction teams assess and address infrastructure problems across Afghanistan in an effort to stabilize communities. The teams include security details, and it was in that capacity that Fike was serving when he was killed, Angell explained.
Fike joined Pennsylvania’s Guard in September 1993. In his 16 years of service he completed two tours, one in Saudi Arabia from 2002 to 2003 and another in Iraq from 2007 to 2008. His awards include the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary and Service Medals and Iraq Campaign Medal.
Fike and Hoover previously served together in Iraq in 2007 and 2008 with the 28th Military Police Company.
The soldiers’ families were notified of their deaths Friday and authorities released information to the public late Saturday and Sunday. As word spread, family and friends reflected on Fike’s life and legacy.
“He was a father,” Jim Fike said of his son in a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper interview. “He wanted to hunt. He loved to fish, and if he had spare time that’s what he did. He loved being in the outdoors and loved being with his daughter.”
Friends in Meadville recalled how Fike would have his daughter and her friends enjoy outdoors activities around his place in Conneautville.
Fellow soldiers stressed Fike’s professionalism and ability.
“I have talked with people who knew him,” said Maj. Angell. “Those who served with him stated how good a leader he was and how well he took care of the soldiers he supervised. By all accounts they (Fike and Hoover) were excellent leaders.”
“These were experienced soldiers who had done other combat deployments and were dedicated to serving the nation and the commonwealth,” said Maj. Gen. Randall Marchi, commander of 28th Infantry Division. “It is a tragic loss and we send our heartfelt sympathies to their families and friends.”
Fike’s family met Robert’s body at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Sunday afternoon when it returned to the United States, according to Robert’s brother, Chris.
Memorial arrangements were not complete as of Sunday night.
“It’s all just been so sudden,” Chris said.
Pat Bywater can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
A family member posted this message on a memorial Facebook page on behalf of Sgt. 1st Class Robert Fike’s daughter, Mackenzie, a 12-year-old who lives in Meadville:
“Wait Daddy, please come back ... if only for just one more minute. I need one more hug, I need to hear your voice one more time. It just isn’t fair, that I can’t see you anymore and you won’t be here to see me grow up. I know our country needed you but, I needed you more. They stole you from me Dad, but nobody can steal all the memories you made for me. You taught me how to fish, how to ride a four-wheeler, and how to enjoy and appreciate the outdoors. But most of all Dad, you were my rock. You always knew how to make things better and you could always make me smile. You were the BEST dad in the world. You weren’t supposed to leave me Dad ... I’m only 12. I love you so much and I always will.”