Vilseck mourns the loss of six of its own
Community comes together after soldiers are killed during Iraq offensive
By CHARLIE COON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 13, 2008
VILSECK, Germany — The rural military community of Vilseck is just a fraction of itself, now that most of its soldiers are deployed to Iraq.
But when word came that six of their own died Wednesday in Sinsil, Iraq, after entering a booby-trapped home, the quiet, depleted community grew a little bit closer, according to spouses living there.
“You take your time, clear your day and be prepared to spend time on the phone,” Kimberly Blatchford said Saturday.
“Everybody hears about it because you start getting e-mails and phone calls. You just make sure that everybody is OK and not home alone.”
Blatchford’s husband, Sgt. Todd Blatchford, is serving with the six soldiers who died last week. On Friday, the Defense Department released their names: Spc. Todd E. Davis, 22, of Raymore, Mo.; Staff Sgt. Jonathan K. Dozier, 30, of Rutherford, Tenn.; Staff Sgt. Sean M. Gaul, 29, of Reno, Nev.; Sgt. Zachary W. McBride, 20, of Bend, Ore.; Sgt. 1st Class Matthew I. Pionk, 30, of Superior, Wis.; and Sgt. Christopher A. Sanders, 22, of Roswell, N.M.
All were assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division.
They were part of Operation Phantom Phoenix, an offensive that has U.S. and Iraqi troops hunting suspected al-Qaida in Iraq militants and supporters around Baghdad, in eastern Diyala province and the northern provinces of Salahuddin, Tamim and Nineveh.
A home in Sinsil rigged with bombs exploded while troops were inside, killing the six soldiers and injuring four others. An Iraqi translator also was killed.
A memorial service is expected to be held this week at the Vilseck chapel, but the time and date have not been announced.
The brigade deployed in August and isn’t due back until the summer at the earliest.
Many of the soldiers’ spouses chose to return to the United States to ride out the deployment amid family and friends instead of sticking around Rose Barracks, where the regiment is headquartered. But no matter where they are, each wife or husband is coping with the deployment in his or her own way.
Dana Lim said her husband, Sgt. Hank Lim, was “lunch buddies” in Iraq with some of those who died. She said she tried to console him over the telephone while reminding him to stay focused and finish the job he went to Iraq to do.
“I told him, ‘You have to keep strong and keep safe,’” she said, holding their 2-year-old son, Nathaniel. “He has to do his part so they don’t become meaningless deaths.”
Emma Styles said she instantly thought of her own husband’s safety when she heard about those who died.
“Honestly, I feel awful for what happened to those soldiers,” Styles said. “I get too scared to go to the memorial services. I feel just heartbroken for them and their families.”
While some wives have had a chance to talk by phone with their deployed soldier, others were left on tenterhooks.
“My husband is on some sort of 15-day mission, I guess, and I haven’t talked to him (since the deaths),” Melissa Moreno said. “So I’m a little freaked out.”
Margaret Reynolds, whose husband is on his second deployment to Iraq, said spouses aren’t the only ones who suffer. When soldiers get killed downrange, she said, there is a ripple effect not only in Vilseck but also around Germany — and even around the world.
“Even if it’s a single soldier, they have a mom and dad, sisters and brothers and friends, and somebody’s going to be hurting,” she said. “When you’re in the military a long time, you make a lot of friends.
“And it doesn’t matter which squadron it is. It’s us.”