Gift giving turns deadly for Stryker soldiers
MICHAEL GILBERT; The News Tribune
Three Stryker soldiers were killed Sunday in Diyala Province, apparently when a suicide bomber struck as they were passing out soccer balls and treats to local children.
The Department of Defense identified the Fort Lewis soldiers as:
• Pfc. Marius L. Ferrero, 23, of Miami.
• Cpl. Jason T. Lee, 26, of Fruitport, Mich.
• Cpl. Christopher J. Nelson, 22, of Rochester, Thurston County.
All were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, a unit of the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. It is one of two battalions that moved up from Baghdad last month to Baqouba to prepare to take over in Diyala Province.
The Fort Lewis soldiers, who deployed in April, are taking on a larger area of operations to cover for a cavalry brigade that is returning to Fort Hood, Texas, next month.
Three other 4th Brigade soldiers were killed last week in a pair of bombings farther north in the new battle space, in Mukhisa.
In all, the brigade has lost six soldiers in a week, after seven weeks without a fatal casualty.
Baqouba was the scene of heavy fighting over the summer involving another Fort Lewis unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, to force out al-Qaida in Iraq fighters who’d taken over much of the city. The 3rd Brigade has since come home.
The commander of U.S. troops in northern Iraq, Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, said Monday that there are challenges but that he is confident the 4th Brigade, with Iraqi security forces, would be able to cover the expanded territory.
In a conference call with Pentagon reporters, Hertling said Iraqi units in the area are “speaking the same language tactically and operationally that we are. And they’re going after the same enemy that we are, so that eases the transition a little bit.”
Sunday’s attack apparently took place when a suicide bomber detonated himself while troops were giving away soccer balls and other goodies to Baqouba children. The Associated Press quoted a wounded boy who said an explosion occurred just after soldiers had beckoned him and his friends to their vehicles to get the gifts.
The AP reported that at least three children were killed and seven others wounded.
A news release by the U.S. military command in Baghdad said the three soldiers “were killed as a result of a suicide vest attack” and the Defense Department in its release said they died “when an improvised explosive device detonated during a mounted patrol.”
Fort Lewis officials said they had no further details, and U.S. military spokespersons in Baghdad couldn’t be reached.
Ferrero’s mother, Maribel, told the Miami Herald that she celebrated an early Thanksgiving with her son when he was home earlier this month to grieve the death of his grandfather. Looking back, she and other family members said it almost seemed like he was saying his goodbyes.
“He wanted us to give him a Thanksgiving dinner, and it seemed like it was a farewell,” she told the Herald. “Sometimes you get a feeling.”
Lee’s father, Thomas, told the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press that he last talked to his son about a week ago. Lee is also survived by his wife, Lisa.
“He said he could see a difference from when he got there. The people are confiding in us,” the elder Lee told the Press. “He said, ‘Dad, I’m making a difference.’”
Nelson’s death was reported on the front page of The News Tribune on Tuesday. His father, John, told the Centralia Chronicle he joined the Army after graduating from Rochester High School in 2003. After a hitch at Fort Stewart, Ga., he volunteered to move to Fort Lewis to join the 4th Brigade.
He is survived by his wife, Angela. Her father, Leo Marquez, told The Olympian that his son-in-law was “just a goodhearted guy” who played football in high school.
He enjoyed riding all-terrain vehicles and was drawn to children, often ignoring other adults in favor of playing with younger brother, sisters, nieces and nephews.
“He just wanted to serve his country and he believed in what was going on,” Marquez said.
Michael Gilbert: 253-597-8921
Fort Lewis troops and families have paid a dear price, with 174 lives lost across a broad swath of Iraq. Read more on our military blog, FOB Tacoma, at blogs.thenewstribune.com/military