2015-05-13 / News

Kyle’s home: Fallen soldier to grace Swift Creek bridge

By Jim McConnell

U.S. Army Spc. Kyle Stoeckli, a Chesterfield resident, was killed in action in Afghanistan in June 2013. 
Sonja Stoeckli U.S. Army Spc. Kyle Stoeckli, a Chesterfield resident, was killed in action in Afghanistan in June 2013. Sonja Stoeckli The words, delivered from half a world away, were music to a mother’s ears.

On May 30, 2013, U.S. Army Spc. Kyle Stoeckli called his mother, Sonja, and informed her that his platoon had begun preparations to complete its combat deployment in Afghanistan.

“We’ve packed our bags, and we’re coming home,” Kyle announced, the 21-year-old’s typical exuberance bolstered by the thought of reuniting with family and friends in Chesterfield. Instead, it was the last time Sonja Stoeckli spoke with her son.

Kyle Stoeckli died June 1, 2013, from injuries suffered when his unit was attacked with an improvised explosive device near Maiwand, a village in the southern province of Kandahar.

He was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, one of more than 2,000 American soldiers killed in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.

As his mother noted during an interview last week, the agony of losing a child is still sometimes too much to bear.

“The pain doesn’t go away … it just changes,” Sonja said.

“There’s not one day I don’t think of him.

I think about that conversation – the last time I heard his voice, he was so happy. He never thought he wouldn’t make it home.”

On the second anniversary of Kyle’s death, the state and county will honor his sacrifice by dedicating a local landmark in his memory.

During a June 1 ceremony, the bridge that carries Woolridge Road across the Swift Creek Reservoir officially will be named the Specialist Kyle Pascal Stoeckli Memorial Bridge.

“I’m honored that somebody thought to do this,” said Kyle’s father, Bruno, who now lives in Sunrise, Florida, but will return to Chesterfield for the ceremony.

The process of dedicating the Swift Creek Reservoir bridge began a year ago, when Mark McCracken – a friend of the Stoecklis – decided he wanted to do something to memorialize Kyle’s service and bring comfort to his family.

McCracken learned that the bridge is owned by the Virginia Department of Transportation, but that the county had to adopt a resolution asking the state to name the bridge before state officials would consider such a move.

To help him cut through bureaucratic red tape, McCracken enlisted the help of Matoaca District Supervisor Steve Elswick, who immediately supported the idea and got county staff involved in bringing it to fruition. Assistant County Administrator Lou Lassiter also played a key role, McCracken said.

“When it comes to something like this, it takes more than everybody getting on board – everybody has to paddle in the same direction,” McCracken added. “We’re very fortunate to have people of that caliber working for our county.”

Elswick organized the initial meeting between state and county officials. They held several follow-up meetings in November to discuss various logistical details, then the Board of Supervisors adopted the resolution in December asking the VDOT commissioner to name the bridge for the fallen soldier. Their request was approved, and the bridge-naming ceremony was set for June 1 at noon.

“To ensure that his sacrifice is never forgotten, it’s the least we could do,” Elswick said. Kyle Stoeckli’s decision to enlist in the Army in July 2010 after graduating from high school came as no surprise to his mother. While neither of his parents came from a military background, Kyle had always shown an interest in the service. He also had a compassionate nature and instinctively defended weaker classmates who were bullied in school, she said.

Sonja Stoeckli recalled that when relatives in her native Switzerland learned of Kyle’s intention to join the Army, they scolded her for failing to stop him.

“That’s something you can’t do,” she said. “It was his mission, his dream.”

According to multiple media accounts, Kyle very quickly became a favorite among the soldiers in his platoon because of his outgoing personality, positive outlook and determination to get the job done correctly.

Every time he called home to speak with his parents and younger sister, Kyle attempted to reassure them by saying that the situation in Afghanistan wasn’t as dangerous as it had been portrayed in the media.

That changed just a couple weeks before he was scheduled to return home.

One of Kyle’s two tattoos was a Bible verse – John 15:13 – which reads, “Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.”

“It’s still a difficult time,” Bruno Stoeckli said. “You miss him, but life has to go on.”

McCracken lost two of his older brothers at a young age and knows how difficult it has been for the Stoecklis to “keep on living” in the wake of tragedy.

He expressed hope that the community’s lasting remembrance of Kyle will help carry them through the rest of their lives and serve as “a rope that will pull them back from the depths of sorrow.”

“Not much in this life is permanent, but that bridge is still going to be standing 100 years from now,” McCracken said. “Every time I cross it, I’ll remember Kyle.”

Sonja Stoeckli, who now lives in Brandermill, no longer has to cross the Swift Creek Reservoir to get home from work. But she intends to take a detour every once in a while and visit her late son’s bridge.

“I’m very grateful to the people who made it their mission that Kyle should never be forgotten,” she added. “It’s a great honor. He deserves it.”

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