COLCHESTER -- A soldier and medic with the Vermont Army National Guard was killed in Afghanistan early Wednesday in a fierce firefight with Taliban insurgents.

Sgt. 1st Class John Thomas Stone, 52, of Tunbridge was shot several times at about 1 a.m. local time when dozens of enemy fighters attacked a small, remote base in southern Afghanistan, west of Kandahar. The longtime infantryman and medic was backing up the Afghan army soldiers he and other Vermont, U.S. and Canadian forces were responsible for training.

Stone died at the scene after the battle, a rare outburst from Taliban and possibly al-Qaida combatants that was a violent end to a quiet winter, Guard commander Maj. Gen. Martha Rainville said in a late Wednesday news conference at Camp Johnson, the Guard's Colchester headquarters.

The sergeant -- known as Tom, Doc and Stoney by his fellow service members -- was serving his third tour in Afghanistan with the Guard, Rainville said. He was one of three dozen Vermonters in the country.

Commanders and soldiers remembered Stone as a well-respected, compassionate role model who dedicated himself to caring for his military colleagues and the Afghan people.

"He felt he was making a difference," Rainville said. "He cared a lot about others in this world."

Stone is survived by his longtime partner, Rose Loving of Tunbridge, and a sister who lives in Florida. The family requested privacy.

Stone is the first Vermont Guardsman to be killed in Afghanistan. Nine Vermont soldiers have been killed in combat in Iraq, and one man died of natural causes while training in Kuwait. Stone is the 24th service member with Vermont ties to be killed since the Iraq war began three years ago. Serving others

His three tours kept Stone in Afghanistan for much of the past three years; he was in Vermont only from September 2004 through March 2005. Stone returned to Afghanistan in July with 35 senior and noncommissioned officers for another yearlong mission.

Capt. Jeff Roosevelt served with Stone on his second tour, in 2004.

"He was all about taking care of the soldiers around him," Roosevelt said. "That's why he went on the three deployments: to take care of the soldiers who were his brothers."

Stone grew up in Pomfret and enlisted in the Army after graduating from Woodstock Union High School in 1971. Stone joined the Vermont Guard in 1982 and has worked full-time there since 2000, Rainville said. The sergeant also had served in the Army's elite special forces, Roosevelt said.

In Afghanistan, Stone set up public medical clinics near forward operating bases. He treated people with leg infections that could have worsened and required amputation without intervention; provided antibiotics; even helped people suffering from colds, Roosevelt said. Like any "doc," Stone handed out lollipops to children, the captain said.

Stone's actions saved hundreds of Afghan lives, Roosevelt said.

Retired Guard member John Jacob remembered Stone as a man devoted to assisting others. It was a trait Jacob recognized in 1985, when he met Stone through the Army Guard. Stone was one of Jacob's first Guard bosses; the two worked together for about a decade.

"Of all the guys I knew who were killed over there, this is breaking me up the worst," said Jacob, who served with Stone in Afghanistan in 2003, the Vermont Guard's first tour there. "I've known him the longest."

Before leaving for his third tour, Stone and Loving bought the property on which they had lived for several years, said Wendy McCullough, the town clerk in Tunbridge, population 1,330.

"Just a real nice man, a very nice couple," McCullough said. Sudden firefight

Stone was wearing a helmet, body armor and likely had night-vision goggles when the militants launched their attack, which included mortar fire, rocket-propelled grenades and firearms, Rainville said.

Afghan army soldiers and forces from the United States and Canada defended the forward operating base. Stone, relying on his infantry background, crouched in a sandbagged post and returned fire before he was shot and killed, Rainville said.

Warplanes and helicopters were called in to back up coalition forces.

A 22-year-old Canadian soldier and six Afghan army members also were killed in the attack, and a Tennessee National Guardsman was severely wounded, Rainville said. Preliminary reports suggested coalition forces killed 12 to 14 militants in the firefight.

About 20 other Vermonters were at the small outpost; none was injured.

Stone is the third Guardsman killed since Jan. 25.

"This just is a tragic loss," Rainville said. "This continues to be just a difficult time for the National Guard and for the state. Each loss just affects so many people. Each soldier is a very precious life."
Free Press Staff Writer Victoria Welch contributed to this report. Contact Adam Silverman at 660-1854 or