Baumholder reels from GIs' deaths
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Seven of the eight 1st Armored Division soldiers who died last week at the hands of a suicide bomber belonged to the same platoon in a Baumholder unit working overtime in Iraq.
“Everyone in the whole community feels empathy, because it could have been their spouse,” said Lt. Col. Michael Cerrone, the Baumholder community chaplain.
The Defense Department has released the names of the eight soldiers who died Thursday when a car, described as a station wagon, detonated along a road south of Baghdad where the soldiers were providing security. The eighth soldier killed in the attack was an Army medic assigned to the unit.
The eight killed were:
• Staff Sgt. Esau G. Patterson Jr., 25, of Ridgeland, S.C.;
• Staff Sgt. Jeffrey F. Dayton, 27, of Caledonia, Miss.;
• Sgt. Ryan M. Campbell, 25, of Kirksville, Mo.;
• Spc. James L. Beckstrand, 27, of Escondido, Calif.;
• Spc. Justin B. Schmidt, 23, of Bradenton, Fla.;
• Pfc. Ryan E. Reed, 20, of Colorado Springs, Colo.;
• Pfc. Norman Darling, 29, of Middleboro, Mass.;
• Pfc. Jeremy Ricardo Ewing, 22, of Miami.
In addition, four other soldiers were injured in the attack. Two of the four appear to be in serious condition, according to Madeleine Dwoiakowski, spokeswoman for the 222nd Base Support Battalion in Baumholder.
All of the soldiers wounded or killed were assigned to Company C, 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, which, like the rest of the division, had expected to be back in Germany by now. The recent surge of violence and unrest, however, in key parts of Iraq led the Defense Department last month to extend the deployment of the 1st AD and other troops who were about to depart.
Five of the eight soldiers killed were married, Cerrone said. Three of the five spouses were in the United States at the time of the attack.
Kim Hickman, the leader of the company’s family readiness group, said Monday that she and other wives in the unit are lending whatever support they can to the two spouses in Baumholder. Both wives, Hickman said, had been planning for a homecoming this month.
The women know “if their husbands were home, this wouldn’t have happened,” Hickman said, “but, on the other hand, this is their job. You don’t have a lot of say about it. You try to keep your head up.”
And, she added, you always let the grieving spouses know they have places to turn to for assistance and comfort, no matter how large or small the issue.
It’s the same message that Dom Calabria, the principal at Baumholder High School, and other educators in the community are conveying to students.
None of the eight killed had children in school in Baumholder, but Calabria said a freshman student’s father was among the injured. The father suffered shrapnel wounds to his elbow and shoulder. A school counselor has spoken to the student.
“The kids, for the most part, would rather deal with it themselves,” Calabria said.
Cerrone and his deputy chaplain, Capt. Joseph Vieira, said the community, like others in the military, are close-knit, especially at times like this.
The last month has been hard on the community, Cerrone said. Two Baumholder troops died in separate incidents shortly before Easter. Then the troops’ tours were extended. Now eight soldiers in the same platoon are gone.
Given the anxiety that many people are feeling, Cerrone said the death of the eight “is the worst case scenario” one could imagine.
“All the stops have been pulled out” to support the community, Cerrone said.
A memorial service is planned for 10 a.m. Wednesday at Chapel 1 on Smith Barracks in Baumholder.