The two members of the 82nd Airborne Division were killed by an improvised explosive device Saturday in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
"Our hearts are heavy with the loss of two brave paratroopers in Afghanistan," Gov. Cooper said. "To honor their memories, I order the flags to half staff."
Flags are ordered to remain at half-staff through sunset on Jan. 19.
According to a news release from the 82nd Airborne Division Lt. Col. Mike Burns, Staff Sgt. McLaughlin of Newport News, Va., and Pfc. Villalon of Joliet, Ill. were both paratroopers and were conducting combat operations when they were killed. Both men were assigned to the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
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"My wife Renee and I join our community in mourning the loss of Staff Sgt. McLaughlin and Pfc. Villalon," said Rep. Richard Hudson. "These brave men lived and died as heroes, and our country will never forget them. We send our deepest condolences to their family and teammates and will keep them in our prayers."
Burns said McLaughlin joined the army in 2012. He was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in 2016. McLaughlin served as a construction engineer and squad leader. Burns said this was McLaughlin's first combat deployment.
McLaughlin has earned numerous awards and decorations, including the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal. He is survived by his wife and four children.
According to Burns, Villalon joined the army in 2018 and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division after basic combat training in 2019. Villalon was a combat engineer. This was also his first combat deployment.
Villalon has received multiple awards and decorations as well, including the Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal. He is survived by his mother and father.
"When our Nation called for its best Airborne Combat Engineers to deploy into harm's way, Staff Sgt. McLaughlin and Pfc. Villalon answered without hesitation. They lived their motto, 'Essayons,' and embodied the values of the All American Engineer," Col. Art Sellers, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, said in a written statement. "Their loved ones are now surrounded by a caring community offering comfort and assistance through this difficult time."