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Army Staff Sgt. Mark C. Wells, 31, San Jose; killed by hidden bomb in Afghanistan

The explosive ordnance disposal technician never said much to his family about his sensitive missions. He especially didn't seem to want them to know of the close calls his job entailed.

May 22, 2011|By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times
  • Mark C. Wells enlisted in the Army in 2003. He was first deployed to Iraq, where he worked as a field medic. He then decided to become a bomb disposal technician. One assignment took him to Sri Lanka, where he trained people to dispose of land mines that were endangering civilian lives.
Mark C. Wells enlisted in the Army in 2003. He was first deployed to Iraq,…

Army Staff Sgt. Mark C. Wells never said much to his family about his assignment in Afghanistan.

His work as an explosive ordnance disposal technician meant he was often on sensitive, dangerous missions, defusing explosives and sweeping areas ahead of visits by high-ranking political figures. He especially didn't seem to want his family to know of the close calls his job entailed.

"Just know, if anything happens, I'm doing what I love to do," he would tell them, recalled his father, Burl Wells. The younger Wells saw his task as one of saving innocent lives — not only U.S. military personnel but also local civilians, his father said.

On March 5, Mark Wells, 31, of San Jose was killed in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province by the same thing he worked to protect others from when he stepped on a hidden bomb.

He was with the 74th Ordnance Company of the Combined Joint Task Force Paladin. When not deployed, his company was assigned to the 303rd Ordnance Battalion, 45th Sustainment Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

Wells, the youngest of four children born to a salesman and a stay-at-home mother, was a quiet, deeply caring man and an excellent cook, friends and family said. He loved the outdoors and celebrated his Irish ancestry — he played the bagpipes beautifully and cooked a mean corned beef and cabbage.

Having grown up listening on hunting and fishing trips to his grandfather tell stories about his service in the Army's 101st Airborne Division during World War II, Wells talked about becoming a soldier from a young age, his family said.

"From when he was a little boy, he always said he wanted to be a soldier," said his mother, Sharon Wells. "It was just in him, from the very beginning."

As a teenager, Wells got his first job working for Tom Francois, the owner of a San Jose butcher shop and the host of a cooking show on local TV. Francois recalled the young man's strong work ethic and maturity, saying Wells always showed up early and worked the barbeque pit with responsibility and dedication.

"He stood out," Francois said. "He was a remarkable young man."

After he graduated from Leigh High School in San Jose, Wells worked odd jobs before enlisting in the Army in 2003. He was first deployed to Iraq, where he worked as a field medic, his family said. That assignment seemed to take a toll on Wells, who cared about people around him and always wanted to help.

"It was tough being a medic and dealing with wounded soldiers," his father said. "He has a big heart; he's compassionate."

After his tour in Iraq, Wells decided to become an explosives technician instead. One assignment took him to Sri Lanka, where he trained people to dispose of land mines that were endangering civilian lives.

In the military, Wells' skill on the bagpipes took on a new importance as he was frequently called on to play at fallen soldiers' funerals. It was also during his Army service that he met his wife, Danielle, who was stationed in Hawaii with the Navy.

The young couple had a son, Finnegan, now 2, and was expecting a second child, a daughter, when Wells was killed. He had been hoping to return home for the baby's birth. Caitlynn was born in late April.

On St. Patrick's Day this year, Wells' friends and family from across the country gathered for an Irish wake in Gilbert, Ariz., where his wife and children live. Friends told stories of his small acts of kindness. They had corned beef and cabbage, and a solemn rendition of "Amazing Grace" was played on the bagpipes.

In addition to his wife, children and parents, Wells is survived by two sisters, Shannon McCarn of McArthur, Calif., and Sheila Blue of Spring, Texas.

victoria.kim@latimes.com

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