By Kurt Madar

Witnesses are calling the blast that killed Crescent City's Bruno de Solenni on Saturday the largest improvised explosive device (IED) the military has seen in southern Afghanistan.

The explosion flung the 37,000-pound vehicle de Solenni was in 20 feet into the air and 70 feet across the ground, one of the survivors wrote in an email to The (Portland) Oregonian newspaper.

andquot;There was shrapnel in all the vehicles behind mine and the last one was more than 500 feet from our back end when it (the IED) exploded,andquot; Oregon National Guard Capt. Dominic Oto wrote.

Also killed in the blast were two Afghan interpreters. National Guard Maj. Bill Krei was injured.

A Mass was held for de Solenni in Crescent City on Tuesday evening. Additional services will be held when his body is returned here, which could happen as soon as later this week.

Flags were flying at half-staff throughout Del Norte County, and Gov. Schwarzenegger ordered the Capitol flag in Sacramento lowered as well.

andquot;Captain Bruno de Solenni is a shining example of the determination and courage that makes our nation strong,andquot; Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

De Solenni, a captain in the Oregon National Guard, and his team were in a convoy traveling from a forward operating base to Kandahar Air Field when the attack occurred.

andquot;I have no idea how I am alive and escaped with only minor injuries,andquot; Oto wrote.

andquot;I am feeling better, just sad as hell about Bruno and our Terps (interpreters) Hanif and Ramin being killed.andquot;

Oto went on to describe de Solenni, a 1994 graduate of Del Norte High School, as andquot;everything in a person I wish I was. Smart, kind and (a) steel core that made him the best officer on our team.

andquot;He loved the Afghans, and in combat never was there a better operator or leader. The man was absolutely fearless.andquot;

De Solenni and his team were tasked with training Afghan soldiers and assisting them in operations, said Oregon National Guard Lt. Colonel Gregory Day.

The reason that U.S. soldiers accompany Afghan troops on operations is because American soldiers have access to support, whether artillery or air, that Afghan troops don't always have, Day said.

To date, IEDs have killed at least 1,807 American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An IED is an explosive device that may incorporate military components but most often is cobbled together from non-military hardware.

andquot;IEDs are hard to detect because they are often buried and camouflaged,andquot; Day said. andquot;I am speaking from personal experience, not commenting on the IED that destroyed Captain de Solenni.andquot;

Apparently the first Del Norte County soldier killed in action since U.S. troops invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, de Solenni's previous tours were in Egypt and Iraq.

According to the Department of Defense, the situation in Afghanistan has become deadlier than the war in Iraq, with more American lives claimed in Afghanistan each month since June.

For September, 18 U.S. soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq, and 30 have died in Afghanistan.

Currently there are 33,000 troops in Afghanistan and 150,000 in Iraq.

CNN reports that U.S. Army General David McKiernan is requesting 15,000 more troops in Afghanistan to help control the deteriorating situation.

In response, the Bush administration has pledged to send a total of 6,000 more by January, but indicated it would not be able to send more until spring.