CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — Second Infantry Division soldiers in South Korea say news of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team’s casualties in Iraq is a sober reminder of the real dangers their comrades face in the desert.

Second Brigade deployed to Iraq from South Korea in August and is serving in and around Ramadi, west of Baghdad. Many soldiers from 2nd ID units stationed in South Korea have friends serving with 2nd Brigade, known as Strike Force, and most helped train the Iraq-bound troops in June and July.

As of Friday, 21 Strike Force soldiers had died in Iraq.

Soldiers with friends in Strike Force watch the casualty reports carefully. Soldiers from throughout the division got to know members of 2nd BCT during training for the Iraq mission, which was supervised by 1st Brigade units.

One of the soldiers who helped train Strike Force, Maj. Douglas Willis, 35, of 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, said he hoped the training would keep his comrades safe.

“I got here on June 25, just in time to do the train-up with them,” said the Quincy, Ill., native. “I know some of the battalion commanders and some staff officers. We did the movement to contact lane and traffic control point training at Twin Bridges,” a South Korean training area.

“You read about it (the casualties) and also within the division, you hear from fellow officers and NCOs what has happened there,” he said, “and we hope that with the training we provided them, they will continue to keep themselves safe.”

News of the casualties helps focus soldiers in South Korea on their own training, he said: “The guys here know that whether they are with this unit or another, there is a high possibility they will be in Iraq in the near future.”

Lt. Col. Brian Preler, commander of 4-7, said the casualty reports reinforce that the U.S. Army is at war.

“Anything is possible. We are an expeditionary army now. If you had told me a year ago that I would be standing at Twin Bridges in a mock-up of an Iraqi city, I would not have believed you,” he said during a training exercise last month.

“It really hits home when you read about it in the paper. We trained those guys this summer and I got to know platoon commanders and platoon sergeants well.”

2nd ID soldiers, while grieving for their fallen comrades, appear to accept the risk of dying on the battlefield as a part of their jobs.

Another 4-7 soldier who helped train Strike Force, Spc. Kevin Proctor, 20, of Memphis, Tenn., said casualties are a fact of war.

“You are going to have them. There is no way around it,” he said.

Col. Jeff Christiansen, Area I commander, said the Army continues to support Strike Force families, many of whom are relocating to Fort Carson, Colo., where 2nd Brigade will be based after its Iraq mission.

“It’s human nature” to follow the reports, he said last month. “These are our guys and we are still taking care of their families through our Family Readiness Group. We are deeply committed to staying with them until they finish their mission in Iraq.”

One group of 2nd ID soldiers in South Korea is paying particular attention to news about Strike Force: the 2nd BCT KATUSAs (Korean Augmentees to the U.S. Army), who were left behind when the unit deployed.

Sgt. Kook Jung-hoon, 25, of Seoul, served with 2nd Brigade’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company before the unit deployed and now is assigned to the division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company.

“We were very concerned about our friends who had to leave,” Kook said.

Some KATUSAs wanted to go to Iraq if they had the opportunity, “ … but to be honest, I am sure some would be quite concerned about the dangerous environment they may have to face,” he said.

“I still communicate with a lot of 2BCT KATUSAs over the Internet and we talk about our missing friends and commanders. We share e-mails about the news about 2nd Brigade. Whenever we find news about 2BCT in any media we send it to each other,” he said.

The KATUSAs check the casualty stories to see if their friends have been hurt, he said.

“I had a friend with 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment. He and I used to work together. I haven’t had a chance to e-mail him yet,” he said, “but once I saw in the news that a 2-17 soldier died and it made me worry about his safety.”

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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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