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KOREA TRAINING CENTER, South Korea — They were noncommissioned officers committed to the Army and their families, giving 100 percent to making their unit the best.

That’s how peers and compatriots characterized the two soldiers who died Wednesday when an armored bridge carrier and a 2.5-ton tactical truck collided during a training exercise.

It was with great grief that dozens of 2nd Infantry Division soldiers gathered here Friday, about 35 miles north of Seoul, to remember Sgt. Giliberto Yoself Strickland and Sgt. 1st Class Lionel Richards of the 44th Engineer Battalion.

Five others were injured in the accident, which remains under investigation.

With flowers, bouquets and photos of the soldiers displayed, their brethren bade farewell, remembering the good moments and the soldiers’ dedication to duty and praying for their families.

“This is the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Larsen, battalion commander.

Larsen replayed the chaos and struggle from Wednesday’s accident.

He praised doctors and medics who swarmed over the scene afterward, working to dislodge people from the wreckage. Three aircrews came to the scene while others struggled to lift the 56-ton M48 Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge, he said.

Larsen said when he learned Richards was filling in as platoon leader because it was without a lieutenant, he knew the unit would be fine. Richards pulled double duty for a few months as both platoon sergeant and platoon leader.

Richards, 44, joined the Army in November 1985 and graduated from the combat engineer course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. He was assigned as the assault and obstacle platoon sergeant in the battalion’s A company at Camp Howze.

He was awarded posthumously the Meritorious Service Medal for outstanding service and dedication to duty.

Richards is survived by his wife, Katie, and three children. One son is in Kuwait, according to the memorial program.

Many soldiers saw Richards as a father figure, a man who found time to help soldiers.

“When I had a personal problem, he always found time to talk them through,” said Sgt. Artemus Manes, also of A company.

Spc. Adam Pope remembered Richards as someone who always had a funny story to share. He made people feel better about themselves, and was more than a platoon sergeant, Pope added. “He was such a special person in so many different ways.”

Those who knew Richards well called him “LA Rich,” said 1st Lt. Jeff Wells, platoon leader, adding that he was a “natural-born leader” who seized every opportunity to pass on his wealth of knowledge. “He always found a way to successfully complete any mission. He never once complained or asked for help.”

Strickland, 30, had a passion for car shows and racing, Manes said. The two would travel to Seoul and Osan together on weekends.

Sgt. Nathan Wheley said Strickland always had a bright smile and knew how to make people laugh. He once told Wheley “to take that frown and turn it upside down” — which, Wheley said, couldn’t help but make him chuckle.

“He taught me to believe no matter how hard it gets, today will end and tomorrow will be a new day,” Wheley said.

Strickland joined the Army in January 1997 and also graduated from the combat engineer course at Fort Leonard Wood. An armored vehicle launched bridge sergeant in A company, he also received a Meritorious Service Medal posthumously.

Strickland is survived by his wife, Diannette, and his mother, Eyegia Reed.


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