GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Three members of the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment — including the unit’s senior officer in Afghanistan — have been identified as the U.S. troops killed when a roadside bomb struck their Humvee in Zabul province late last week.

The Department of Defense on Tuesday announced the names of the three men who died Jan. 9 in the blast near Jaldak, a small town near the provincial capital, Qalat.

The men are: Maj. Brian M. Mescall, 33, of Hopkinton, Mass.; Spc. Joseph M. Hernandez, 24, of Hammond, Ind.; and Spc. Jason R. Parsons, 24, of Lenoir, N.C.

Hernandez was posthumously promoted to corporal and Parsons to sergeant.

Maj. Sean Fisher, the executive officer of the Hohenfels, Germany-based unit, said the deaths were a shock to the battalion, which lost four other soldiers during 2½ years of rotations in southern Afghanistan.

"The unit really is in a state of shock upon learning about the deaths of their friends, but soldiers understand the importance of the mission. The best way we can honor our fallen comrades is by continuing the mission and performing it to the best of our abilities," he said.

Mescall had been the 1-4 chief of staff in Zabul since June, said Fisher, who was the unit’s previous chief of staff in Afghanistan.

Mescall was also deputy commander of a Romanian-led battalion task force that included 1-4’s Team Cherokee, made up of three platoons fighting out of isolated outposts in the mountainous southern Afghan province.

The fatal attack came as the 1-4 soldiers were doing reconnaissance on a potential new patrol base to be staffed by Romanian and Afghan forces, Fisher said.

In recent months there has been an upswing in insurgent attacks on coalition forces in Zabul, including more attacks near the highway that passes through the province linking the Afghan capital, Kabul, and the nation’s second largest city, Kandahar.

"The Taliban are looking at more attacks against coalition forces whereas in the past they have targeted intimidating civilians or indigenous forces. We have seen a shift in the frequency and intensity of actions against us," he said.

The Team Cherokee commander, Capt. Terry Howell, recently returned to Afghanistan after recovering from gunshot wounds sustained in an enemy attack last August.

But, there is no evidence that the Taliban are targeting U.S. military leaders in Zabul, Fisher said.

"There is nothing to indicate that at all. Our leaders are present where they need to be on the battlefield and there is no indication that this act (the latest fatal attack) targeted any individual," he said.

More coalition forces will deploy to Zabul as part of a strategy to increase the security presence in Afghanistan, Fisher said.

A memorial for the three fallen 1-4 soldiers will be held Jan. 23 at 3 p.m. in the Hohenfels Community Activity Center.

Hernandez, who joined the Army in 2005, had a wife and two sons, family members told his hometown newspaper, the Gary (Ind.) Post-Tribune.

Hernandez’s wife told the paper that she had a sick feeling all day Friday. Later that night, Army officials delivered the news to their home.

"You plan your life and you just have all these things that you want to do, and you don’t have a chance to do them anymore," Alison Hernandez said.

"He was my soul mate."

According to the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Parsons had always wanted to be a soldier. Family and friends remembered him as "forever trudging through the woods, a machete strapped to his side, or tinkering with ‘Hoopty,’ the bright yellow Cadillac his mother and stepfather bought him soon after he turned 16."

"He was gung-ho military every since he was a little kid," Parsons’ stepfather, Ken Pritchard of Lenoir, N.C., told the Observer. "We are all taking this very hard, but we knew Jason was totally dedicated to his country and felt very strongly about protecting it."

According to the Army, Mescall attended The Citadel and was commissioned as an officer in 1997.

Among other assignments, Mescall had served with the 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment and the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

There was little family information available about Mescall as of Tuesday afternoon.

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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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