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In Iraq, U.S. Troops Are Still Dying
By 0aAlan Cooperman
The Washington Post
Monday 26 May 2003
Death Rate Down, but Families of Victims Face Special 0aAnguish
Of this, the family and friends of Marine Sgt. Kirk Allen 0aStraseskie are sure: He is wearing his dress blues and standing guard at the 0agates of heaven. Because that's where he said he would be if he were killed, and 0ahe was always a man of his word.
A week ago, Straseskie, 23, was standing on the bank of an Iraqi 0acanal when a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed into the water shortly after 0atakeoff. According to the Pentagon, he immediately plunged in to try to save the 0acrew of four fellow Marines.
Instead, they died together -- some of the 23 U.S. soldiers, 0aairmen and Marines who have lost their lives since President Bush declared on 0aMay 1 that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."
In the public's mind, the war may be over, but U.S. troops 0acontinue to fall in Iraq at the rate of almost one a day. That is down from an 0aaverage of three a day between the start of the war on March 19 and May 1, when 0aa total of 139 American service members were killed.
The continuing casualties have had no discernible impact on the 0aadministration's willingness to keep U.S. forces in Iraq. On the contrary, the 0anumber of American GIs on the ground has risen by 15,000, to nearly 160,000, 0asince Bush declared victory on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham 0aLincoln.
Without wanting to seem cavalier about loss of life, Pentagon 0aofficials note that the current casualty rate is not much different from the 0arate in peacetime training, and that the U.S. mission in Iraq is far from 0acomplete. On May 10, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld pledged to commit 0aas many troops as necessary to stabilize the country, adding that "anyone who 0athinks they know how long it's going to take is fooling themselves."
To those 0awho grieve this Memorial Day for Americans killed since the end of major 0ahostilities, however, there is special anguish.
"It was supposed to be over. The president said it was through," 0asaid Beverly Payne of Clarkston, Wash., choking up as she spoke of the death of 0aher stepson, Master Sgt. William L. Payne, 46, in a May 16 explosion.
A Department of Defense news release said Payne was "examining 0aunexploded ordnance" in Haswah, Iraq, when the accident occurred. But his family 0asays an Army liaison officer initially told them a different story: A soldier in 0aPayne's unit, part of the 70th Armor Regiment based at Fort Riley, Kan., tossed 0awhat he thought was a dud munition against a tree, killing Payne and injuring 0athree other soldiers.
"The truth is, nobody will know what happened," Payne's sister, 0aDeanna Bodden, said in a telephone interview. "Only Billy knows what 0ahappened."
Army spokeswoman Martha Rudd said the incident is under 0ainvestigation. The names of the other soldiers involved have not been made 0apublic. Since May 1, accidental explosions of left-over ordnance have killed 0afour U.S. troops.
Hostile fire has caused few of the recent casualties. Just two 0aAmericans have been officially listed as killed in action this month. Staff Sgt. 0aPatrick Lee Griffin Jr., 31, of Elgin, S.C., an Air Force computer technician 0aand the father of two young children, died May 13 when his convoy was ambushed 0aon the way to Baghdad.
Army Pfc. Marlin T. Rockhold, 23, was shot in the head by a 0asniper while directing traffic on a bridge in Baghdad on May 8. He had believed 0ahe was safe after U.S. forces rolled into the Iraqi capital and the regime of 0aSaddam Hussein evaporated.
"I'm doing just fine now that the war is over here in Iraq!" he 0awrote to his grandmother on April 17. "To actually take a man's life is more 0athan I ever cared to do. But it was either them or me. I don't know what they 0awere told, but God told me I was coming home!"
The letter arrived in 0aRockhold's home town of Hamilton, Ohio, on the day he died, according to the 0aCincinnati Enquirer.
Traffic accidents have been one of the main causes of non-combat 0adeaths, claiming the lives of six U.S. servicemen this month. Among them was 0aArmy Spc. David T. Nutt, of Blackshear, Ga., who was driving a five-ton truck on 0aa highway in northern Iraq on May 14 when a civilian vehicle cut him off. 0aAccording to the U.S. Central Command, Nutt swerved to avoid the vehicle, which 0acaused his truck to head toward a child. Nutt then swerved to avoid the child, 0aand the truck rolled over.
Three U.S. troops have died from what the Pentagon calls "non-hostile discharges" of firearms. The incidents are still under 0ainvestigation and may be declared accidents, suicides or even homicides.
The family of Army Spc. Rasheed Sahib, 22, of Brooklyn is 0aparticularly suspicious of the military's explanation of his death. According to 0athe Pentagon, Sahib and another soldier were cleaning their weapons when the 0aother soldier's weapon accidentally fired on May 18 in Balad, Iraq. The round 0ahit Sahib in the chest.
His sister, Nafeeza Sahib, 19, said the family wants to know 0awhether he was killed because he was a Muslim. She said her brother, who came to 0athe United States from Guyana when he was 5, was proud to serve his country and 0ahoped to join the FBI. But, she said, he also told her that "it was very tough 0aon him after the World Trade Center. He said people looked at him 0adifferently."
The largest single cause of continuing casualties has been 0ahelicopter accidents. On May 9, two Army medical helicopters were trying to 0aremove an Iraqi girl injured in an explosion in the city of Samarra. The girl 0awas loaded onto the first chopper, which took off safely. But the second air 0aambulance snagged a wire over the Tigris River and flipped into the water, 0akilling three crewmen.
Ten days later, Straseskie died trying to rescue the crew of a 0atransport helicopter that had crashed for unknown reasons in the Al Hillah 0acanal, about 60 miles south of Baghdad. He had recently placed a satellite phone 0acall to his best friend and former high school classmate in Beaver Dam, Wis.
"He said, 'Don't worry, it's about over. We'll be home in a 0alittle while,' " recalled the friend, Nick Neuman.
Neuman said some people in Beaver Dam have suggested that 0aStraseskie died in vain because the war was over. But, he said, "I don't want to 0athink that way. I believe Kirk died as a hero."
Straseskie, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound block of muscle with the Marine 0aCorps emblem tattooed on his chest, had wanted to join the Marines since he was 0a6. "He'd get so pumped up when we saw the Marine commercials, because that's all 0ahe ever wanted to do. He just wanted to protect everybody," Neuman said.
Shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Straseskie 0ahad a premonition he might die in war and sent Neuman an e-mail from his Marine 0abase at Camp Pendleton, Calif., with final messages to his family and 0afriends.
"When the time comes for me, it will find me ready and standing 0atall," he wrote. "My life was not wasted, and I died for what I believe in. I 0aask you to take comfort in that, and do not mourn me, for now I wear my dress 0ablues and stand guard at the gates of heaven."
U.S. Soldier Killed in Hostile Fire on Iraqi Supply 0aRoute
Thursday 29 May 2003
Fifth soldier to die in combat this week
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) --The latest attack in a wave of violence 0athis week against U.S. forces in Iraq has taken the life an American soldier, 0aU.S. Central Command said Thursday, bringing the total number of U.S. military 0apersonnel killed this week in hostile acts to five.
"A U.S. soldier was killed by hostile fire while traveling on a 0amain supply route in Iraq today," a statement said. The soldier was evacuated to 0aa combat hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Central Command said the incident happened at Anaconda, Iraq, 0awhich spokesman Capt. Jeff Sandrock described as "a U.S. military logistics 0asupport area northwest of Baghdad." He would not pinpoint the location, citing 0asecurity concerns.
The U.S. Army's V Corps is investigating the shooting, Central 0aCommand said. The soldier's name and unit are being withheld until family 0amembers can be notified.
With Thursday's attack, the number of U.S. soldiers 0akilled this week in hostile incidents rose to five.
Two soldiers were killed and nine others were wounded Tuesday 0awhen a U.S. Army unit came under fire in Fallujah west of Baghdad.
Another soldier was killed and three were wounded near Baghdad 0aInternational Airport Monday when the vehicle they were riding in was blown up 0aby an explosive device thrown under their Humvee.
Starting the week, a soldier was killed and another wounded when 0atheir convoy was ambushed early Monday near Haditha, about 120 miles northwest 0aof Baghdad, as the convoy from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was carrying 0asupplies to Al Qaim from Al Asad Air Base.
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U.S. Helicopter Down in Iraq, Four 0aDead
Wednesday 28 May 2003
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (Reuters) - Al-Jazeera television 0asaid Wednesday four U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq when a helicopter came 0adown.
The Pentagon said it had no information on any missing or crashed 0aU.S. helicopter in Iraq. It said the U.S. military in Baghdad knew of no such 0aincident but that checks were being made.
Jazeera's correspondent quoted witnesses in the town of Hit, 90 0amiles northwest of Baghdad, saying the helicopter crashed during clashes after 0aarmed Iraqis attacked a local police station.
The correspondent reported U.S. forces withdrew from city after 0acoming under heavy attacks from residents angry at their presence. He said some 0aresidents said they shot down the helicopter.
The residents attacked the police station because they were angry 0awith Iraqi police for helping American forces in house-to- house searches for 0aweapons, the Jazeera report said.