U.S. soldier killed on humanitarian mission in Guatemala

A decorated Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan was killed in an apparent freak accident in Guatemala this week when he was struck by a tree limb while making public affairs videos of Southcom humanitarian relief operations, the military said Thursday.

Staff Sgt. Robert J. Traxel, 34, of the Missouri National Guard was on activated duty when he was killed Monday in the “Beyond the Horizon” training exercise focusing on health care in Central America.

Traxel was apparently “struck in the head by a tree limb that fell due to wind generated by helicopter rotor blades,” Maj. Tamara Spicer of the Missouri Guard said in a statement provided to The Miami Herald on Thursday. The account was based on “initial reports,” she said, adding that his death was under investigation.

Traxel, a seven-year veteran of both Marine and Army service, joined the Missouri Guard in April and was working as a public affairs specialist during this week’s mobilization.

Traxel’s last released Defense Department video showed hundreds of Guatemalans lining up in Pocola, Guatemala on June 26 to get free health care from the U.S. Army’s 352nd Combat Support Hospital forces collaborating with Canadian and Guatemalan military forces.

His Missouri unit said he joined the National Guard after serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan in 2008 and Iraq in 2011. He was a Marine between 1998 and 2001.

His service decorations included the Army Achievement Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Army Good Conduct Medal, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Army Service Ribbon, and the Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

The Pentagon’s video archive shows that other reports he made while in the Army included country music artist Toby Keith’s USO visit to southern Iraq in April 2011 and a joint training mission between U.S. forces and about a Greywolf Brigade training mission in Kalamazoo, Mich, in November 2010.

Southcom, the Pentagon's Miami outpost responsible for U.S. military operations in Latin America, says on its website that it was relying on “hundreds of U.S. service members, representing National Guard and Reserve forces from all services” for its Beyond the Horizon training programs this year in Guatemala, Honduras and Peru.

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