Squadron carries on despite a year of losses

It hasn't been an easy year for the Stingers of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort's Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31.

The squadron has lost three members in less than a year.

One was killed in an accidental shooting in August. That incident led to the arrest of a fellow Stinger and his removal from the squadron. And a Stinger was killed last month in the Afghani province of Kandahar.

The squadron left MCAS Beaufort in March and will return from Afghanistan early next year, according to the Corps. Despite the losses, the squadron's senior leadership says the Stingers are sticking together.

"The Marines and sailors of MALS-31 are proud to do their part in continuing to maintain the operational readiness of the Stingers," said Lt. Col. Russell Blauw, commanding officer of MALS-31. "While it is always a tragedy to lose fellow Marines for any reason, the men and women of MALS-31 have truly come together to face these difficult circumstances."Lance Cpl. Matthew G. Reza, 27, of Austin, Texas, joined MALS-31 about a year ago and died after what the Pentagon has called a "non-hostile incident" on May 31 in Kandahar. Reza's body was flown to his home state of Texas on Friday, according to various Texas news outlets.The Department of Defense has yet to release any details on the accident that killed Reza, said Lt. Josiah Nicely, air station spokesman. Attempts to reach Reza's family were unsuccessful.

Blauw said the squadron is focused on carrying out its mission in Reza's memory.

The Stingers' "dedication and steadfastness to duty have ensured they are fully prepared to support their fellow Marines at all times in all places," he said.

On Aug. 16, two Stingers -- Lance Cpl. Patrick King, 21, and Lance Cpl. Tony Martinez-Ramirez, 21 -- attended a house party in Polk Village, where witnesses reported seeing King playing with a handgun he'd brought with him.

Believing the gun wasn't loaded, King pointed it at Martinez-Ramirez and pulled the trigger. A round struck Martinez-Ramirez in the head, critically wounding him.

King was jailed for five months and pleaded guilty in December to one count of involuntary manslaughter. He was given credit for the five months he spent in the Beaufort County Detention Center awaiting trial and was sentenced to five years of probation by Judge Carmen Mullen. King's probation is being served in his home state of New York, according to records.