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Vandergrift couple's son killed in Afghanistan attack

| Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, 5:29 p.m.
Michael Sauro, a Defense Ammunition Center civilian employee who was killed near Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.
Courtesy of the U.S. Army
Michael Sauro, a Defense Ammunition Center civilian employee who was killed near Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.
Michael Sauro, a Defense Ammunition Center civilian employee who was killed near Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.
Courtesy of the U.S. Army
Michael Sauro, a Defense Ammunition Center civilian employee who was killed near Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.

A Vandergrift couple's son was killed Wednesday in Afghanistan, where he was working as a civilian employee for the U.S. military.

Michael G. Sauro, 40, of McAlester, Okla., died from injuries he received after he was shot by an Afghani gunman at an Afghan military ammunition supply point outside Kabul, according to the Defense Department.

Sauro is the son of Michael and Christine Sauro of Vandergrift, and the grandson of borough residents Anne Sauro and John and Lucille Mathews.

Also killed in the attack was Army Sgt. Douglas J. Riney, 26, of Fairview, Ill., according to the military. An unidentified service member and two other civilian employees, Richard “Rick” Alford and Rodney Henderson, were injured, according to a statement from the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma and wire reports.

Sauro, Alford and Henderson were a team from the McAlester-based Defense Ammunition Center.

They were deployed to Afghanistan to assist U.S. forces as part of a larger NATO mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.

According to the Tribune News Service, U.S. and Afghan officials said the gunman opened fire on the five Americans as they attempted to inspect the ammunition supply base near Camp Morehead.

The Afghan ministry of defense said the gunman, who also was killed, was wearing an Afghan army uniform. The incident is under investigation.

‘Pittsburgher' at heart

Sauro was born in Chambersburg, Pa., and raised in Illinois, where he went to high school and college, but “He always considered himself a Pittsburgher,” according to his grandmother, Lucille Mathews.

“He would never give up on the Pirates. Everybody would always tease him wherever he was, but he would say, ‘Don't you worry, they're coming back,'” Mathews said. “He loved the Pirates, he loved the Steelers. When he was home, he loved to go to The Strip (District) and buy all the good stuff.”

Mathews said her grandson followed his father's footsteps in working for the Defense Ammunition Center in McAlester.

The Defense Ammunition Center provides expertise and training in explosives safety, transportation of hazardous materials, ammunition surveillance, logistics engineering and supports Army ammunition operations through global site inspections.

The younger Sauro began his federal civilian service in 1999. He spent his career working for the Defense Ammunition Center at McAlester; Fort Riley, Kan.; and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

“He was very good at his job and very dedicated to his job,” Mathews said. “He had been there (the Middle East) a couple of times, and this last time, he didn't have to go.

“They could have assigned someone else, but he wanted to go because there was some kind of problem.”

Sauro was deployed to Afghanistan on Sept. 17 and was expected to return to the United States in March. He previously was in Iraq in 2009 and in Afghanistan in 2013.

“Mike was the type of person who, no matter what you asked of him, he was always willing to lend a helping hand to everybody,” said Deborah Schreiner, chief of hazardous materials training at the Defense Ammunition Center. “He was such a joy to work with and always so upbeat. He was an exceptional person and employee.”

“Mikey was a stand-up guy, both as a manager and a friend to all of us,” said Lyn Roberts, an instructor and co-worker. “We will miss his sunny disposition, as well as his genuine kindness. I, for one, will have a smile on my face when I think of the stories he'd tell. We are lucky to have had Mikey in our lives.”

Mathews, Sauro's grandmother, said Sauro last visited the Alle-Kiski Valley about a year ago. She said when they would communicate with him through his mother's computer, he always reassured his family that he was safe.

Mathews said they often would joke about the precautions he'd take when traveling by air in Afghanistan.

“He would rather not go in a helicopter,” she said. “He was always sure they were going to shoot it down, so he would put on every piece of safety equipment he could find.

“He liked to go out with the guys after work, have a beer, have some pizza,” Mathews said. “He was just a regular guy. He did his job.”

In addition to his parents and grandparents, Sauro is survived by his sister, Brienne Matthews, and her husband, Lance Matthews, also a Defense Ammunition Center employee in McAlester; and a brother, Ben Sauro of Columbia, Mo.

Sauro's remains will be transported to McAlester for services. Funeral arrangements are pending. Sauro will be buried in St. Gertrude Cemetery in Vandergrift.

Liz Hayes is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at lhayes@tribweb.com or 724-226-4680. Tom Yerace is a freelance writer.

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