Families, friends mourn loss of 9 paratroopers killed in Iraq
A “PT stud,” a father of two, a “good ol’ boy” and a former professional bull rider who became a “hard-core paratrooper” were among the nine soldiers identified by the Pentagon late Thursday as the soldiers killed earlier this week near Baqoubah, Iraq.
All nine were killed when insurgents in As Sadah attacked their combat outpost Monday with small-arms fire and a pair of truck bombs.
They were assigned to the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division; division officials have said the toll was the highest single combat loss suffered by the 82nd since Vietnam.
First Lt. Kevin J. Gaspers, a 26-year-old from Hastings, Neb., who was remembered by his sister as “probably the best person ever.”
Gaspers was honored by his former Catholic high school during its daily Mass. He was a football and wrestling athlete at the school before joining the ROTC program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His football coach, Carl Tesmer, remembers his perseverance, dedication and manners.
“You always remember the kids who give you everything they’ve got,” Tesmer, told The Associated Press. “America’s just lost one of its finest citizens … it’s a tough day with a lot of tears.”
Staff Sgt. Kenneth E. Locker Jr. was a 28-year-old from Wakefield, Neb. The local ABC News affiliate said he is survived by two sons, his father and his sister.
“He was always itching to get back into the fight, even when he was injured,” said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Kelly, the 5th Squadron rear detachment noncommissioned officer in charge.
Staff Sgt. William Clint Moore, 27, was from Benson, N.C. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, Moore was an Army brat who always knew he would follow in his father’s footsteps.
“He’s always wanted to do this,” Moore’s sister, Leanne Benson, told the paper. “He wanted to serve God and his country. That’s all he ever talked about doing.”
Cora Godwin, one of Moore’s teachers and a family friend, said, “He was what we’d call a good ol’ boy … raised to be very respectful of others. He was a very fun-loving kind of guy, full of life.”
Moore’s death was shocking to his family. “It’s just pretty much not real,” his uncle, Ricky Moore, told the paper. “Clint was tough. He was a hard man. You always know whatever job you do, eventually you’re gonna die somehow. It’s like, somebody that tough ain’t gonna die.”
Sgt. Randell T. Marshall was a 22-year-old from Fitzgerald, Ga., and a former rodeo bull rider.
Marshall also was called “9/11-er” who enlisted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, saying he wanted to serve his country. He was described as a “hard-core paratrooper” by one of his friends, Sgt. Josh Meismer, according to The Associated Press. Marshall is survived by his father, mother and sister.
“We are trying to help the Iraqi Army out with helping the communities out,” Marshall said in a military news story released late last year. “So when we leave, the Iraqi army will be able to go out and do these kinds of missions on their own.”
Sgt. Brice A. Pearson was a 32-year-old from Phoenix.
According to the Arizona Republic, Pearson was remembered as a man who cared for younger soldiers in his unit.
A team leader who served with Pearson, Sgt. William Fleming, said, “Brice didn’t talk about work much off-duty, but he always wanted to know how his guys were doing.”
In a statement issued by Fort Bragg officials, Fleming said, “I’ve lost friends before, but nothing like this. It’s very overwhelming.”
Sgt. Michael L. Vaughan was a 20-year-old from Otis, Ore.
According to The Oregonian, Vaughan had been home on leave in March and told family and friends that he was reluctant to go back to Iraq. But even if he had the choice, family members said, he never would have stayed at home.
“He had seen enough,” his father, George Vaughan, told the paper. “He wanted to come home and go to school. But he was proud to be serving, and even though he was afraid to go back, he went because of his comrades and to finish off his commitment.”
Michael Vaughan was 17 when he wanted to enlist, and needed his parents’ permission. “I’d do it all over again,” George Vaughan said of signing the papers. “I just wish there was a different outcome.”
Spc. Jerry Ryen King was 19 and from Browersville, Ga. He was the second member of his high school graduating class to be killed in Iraq, officials said.
King was a two-sport athlete and member of the school’s Young Democrats, his father, Jerry King, told the AP. His son felt a “need to serve.”
Jerry King had five sisters.
“He had a lot of sense of responsibility protecting his sister. He really cared a lot about them,” the older King said.
Spc. Michael J. Rodriguez was 20, from Sanford, N.C., and wanted to be a paratrooper, his mother said in a written statement.
“Michael was doing what he wanted to,” she wrote. “He loved being a cavalry scout. He knew the mission was making a difference in Iraq. He fought for freedom to come home and enjoy that freedom. Our thoughts and prayers are with B Troop. We pray for their safe return.”
Pfc. Garrett C. Knoll, 23, was from Bad Axe, Mich., and was a cross country and track star in school. According to the Huron Daily Tribune, Knoll was hard-working and would wake up at 4 a.m. for his summer job.
“He was a guy who was always full of energy,” Lee Kahler, Knoll’s high school coach, told the paper. “He was very enthusiastic. He was a really neat kid.”
A friend, Josh Roggenbuck, said Knoll “never seemed to know what he wanted to do with his life, but when he went into the Army he had a whole new conviction.”