Dayton entered the Navy on Feb. 17, 1993, and received 19 awards, including the Bronze Star and the Combat Action Ribbon, during his time in the service, according to a Navy release. He also served multiple previous deployments to Iraq.
“I am deeply saddened by the news on this Thanksgiving Day that one of our brave service members has been killed in Syria while protecting us from the evil of ISIL,” Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said in a statement, using another name for the Islamic State. “Please keep this service member’s family, friends and teammates in your thoughts and prayers, and this Thanksgiving I hope you will join me in expressing thanks to all of our dedicated troops who selflessly protect us everyday.”
Dayton was assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 2 based in Virginia Beach and was also a qualified surface warfare specialist. While Dayton was the first American to die fighting against the Islamic State in Syria, he is the fifth U.S. service member killed in combat since the U.S.-led campaign to rid the region of the Islamic State began in 2014. Last month, Chief Petty Officer Jason Finan, 34, was killed outside Mosul in northern Iraq. Finan was also a bomb disposal technician and had been working with a team of Navy SEALs when he was killed.
There are roughly 500 U.S. troops in Syria, mostly operating in a support role to a coalition of Arab and Kurdish fighters fighting the Islamic State and known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. Earlier this month, Carter announced that the SDF had begun initial operations to isolate and eventually retake Raqqa.
This post has been updated.