CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq — The 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team has suffered its second combat-related death, Pentagon officials confirmed Wednesday.

According to a Defense Department news release, Pfc. Jason Lee Sparks of the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, was killed by enemy fire Sept. 8 in Fallujah.

It was the second death in the first two weeks of the combat team’s yearlong deployment in Iraq. The 1-503rd is deployed to Iraq from Camp Casey, South Korea.

Sparks, 19, from Monroeville, Ohio, was killed by sniper fire when his squad was ambushed, according to members of his unit.

The 2nd Brigade is operating in the volatile region around Ramadi and Fallujah, two of the cities largely under the control of insurgent forces. In recent days, U.S. commanders have promised increased U.S. assaults in the area.

Battalion commander Lt. Col. Justin Gubler, 40, of Honolulu, said Sparks died instantly after being shot in the head during a patrol.

“The patrol made contact. While they were reacting, Sparks was providing a base of fire for his platoon (3rd Platoon, Company C),” Gubler said. “He was returning fire with a few of his mates. Enemy fire was very heavy, and he caught a round.”

The firefight ended when U.S. forces destroyed two trucks, killed three enemy combatants and captured six more, he said.

Sparks had been in the battalion for three months, Gubler said.

“He was a great soldier. You could always count on Sparks. He contributed, kept a positive attitude and he helped the team work together, which is critical in combat,” he said.

A memorial for Sparks was held at Camp Habbaniyah, and there are plans to erect a commemorative plaque.

“We won’t forget him. It is sobering, but for the most part, all the men I have talked to have turned it into a positive motivator,” Gubler said.

One of Sparks’ best friends in the battalion, Pvt. Alen Morgan, 20, of Munford, Ala., remembers a young soldier who liked to laugh.

“We used to [jokingly] pick on each other about who was fatter,” he said.

Sparks came bar-hopping with the other soldiers from his unit in South Korea, even though he was under age, Morgan said.

“He was the designated sober walker. He just tagged along to keep us out of trouble,” he said.

Sparks’ team leader, Cpl. Michael Morabito, 27, of Mayo, Fla., said the young soldier was a baseball player and an Ohio State Buckeye fan.

“He would make me smile inside even when I was yelling at him. He wouldn’t say anything. It was just his personality,” Morabito recalled.

Sparks was engaged to be married, Morabito said. He carried a picture of his fiancee everywhere and kept two photo albums full of her pictures by his cot, Morabito said.

“He was going to be married as soon as we got out of here. We all talk about guys who are in love with their girlfriends, but I never saw a guy as in love with his girl as Sparks.

“It got annoying, he would talk about her so much.”

Sparks died on his first mission outside the wire, Morabito said. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart for his actions.

“His passing definitely gives us more motivation and more of a purpose being here instead of just doing our job for the Iraqi people,” Morabito said.

— Joe Giordono in South Korea contributed to this report.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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