Santa Rosa contractor dies in Afghanistan

April 28, 2011 8:05:24 PM PDT
A deadly attack on Wednesday by an Afghan Air Force pilot inside a NATO military base killed nine people, including a Santa Rosa man. The former army lieutenant was working in Kabul as a civilian contractor, training afghan pilots, when one of them opened fire.

The Afghan pilot's family is saying he had no connection to the Taliban, but that he was under financial stress. As for Jim McLaughlin's family, this news comes as a shock. Teaching Afghans to fly helicopters was a job he loved and his family never thought it would end like this.

There were three police officers standing at the door and that's how Jim McLaughlin's family got the news Wednesday at their Santa Rosa home. Local police came to say the retired army lieutenant colonel working as a civilian contractor in Afghanistan had been killed in one of the deadliest attacks by Afghan security forces against coalition partners.

"They had explained to me that one of the pilots, whom he had worked with over the past four years, had a disagreement with one of his coworkers and opened fire with a gun," said Adam McLaughlin, the victim's son.

McLaughlin died along with eight U.S. military members. They were discussing training in a meeting room at the Kabul airport, when an Afghanistan Air Force officer -- armed with an American-issued handgun -- lined up the Americans and shot them execution style.

McLaughlin was there teaching Afghanis to fly helicopters.

"He thought that he could make a difference in someone's life, if he could make a connection with them," said Adam.

The husband and father just returned to Afghanistan less than two weeks ago.

He was a ham radio enthusiast, friends say one of the few to actually set up the amateur equipment and broadcast out of Afghanistan.

"This was very rare because he's the only person I know of that was able to get a license in Afghanistan," said Bob Magnani, McLaughlin's friend.

Another ham radio enthusiast, Russell Bensten, spoke to McLaughlin twice in Afghanistan. A group planned to visit next week and help set up a bigger system.

"We were very surprised, we thought he was working in a very secure area and nothing like this could happen to him," said Bensten.

"He believed that he could reach these people and actually make them have a will to change. That was the really interesting part, where other people whom I had met that did a similar position did it for a job," said Adam.

ABC News reports this is the seventh time in the past year, that an Afghan soldier has turned his weapon on coalition partners.

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