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Fellow Minnesota guardsmen remember soldier killed by bomb in Iraq

Sgt. Brent Koch, 22, of Morton, Minn., died June 16 near Diwaniyah, Iraq.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CENTCOM

By ANITA POWELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 23, 2006

LOGISTICAL SUPPORT AREA ADDER, Iraq — Sgt. Brent Koch was a boisterous, handsome 22-year-old who loved farming, fishing, motocross racing, hunting, golfing, and a variety of other sports including — as his friends like to joke — chasing women.

The young charmer and Minnesota Army National Guardsman was also, in the words of his platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Hjelmstad, 37, “the prettiest young man we ever loved.”

“He was known for his pretty eyes and he had a striking smile,” explained Koch’s platoon leader, 2nd Lt. Jason Rehn, 31. “He was very photogenic.

“I’ll say it,” he said, drawing snickers from the other soldiers. “He was a very good-looking young man.”

Koch, of Morton, Minn., died June 16 near Diwaniyah when a roadside bomb hit his armored cargo truck, killing him and wounding the truck’s other two passengers, Sgt. William Puckett, 29, and Pvt. Gregory Brown, 19, both of Litchfield, Minn. Both men are being treated at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Koch is the second soldier from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division to die this month. On June 9, Spc. Benjamin Slaven, 22, was killed, also near Diwaniyah, when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb. Both men were gunners.

Koch, like Slaven, was posthumously promoted and given the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Combat Action Badge. He was also awarded the Army Achievement Medal for a prior achievement.

Less than a week after his death, Koch’s colleagues from 2nd Platoon, Company E, 136th Infantry Combined Arms Battalion recounted three of his great loves: beer, bikes and babes.

Koch’s roommate, Spc. Matthew Larson, 23, said Koch loved racing motorcycles, farming in his native Minnesota and watching NASCAR racing. He dreamed of buying a Chevy pick-up truck upon his return home.

A lifelong Minnesotan, Koch also professed an affinity for the native brew.

“Before each mission we would say a prayer,” said 2nd Lt. Jason Rehn, 31, Koch’s platoon leader. “And every time it was Brent’s turn, he’d say, ‘Dear God, please keep us safe and keep the beer cold. Amen.’ ”

While Koch was single and had no steady girlfriend, friends say he had many female admirers.

“There was some serious debate about whether to put in his eulogy that one of his hobbies was chasing women,” Hjelmstad said. “But it wasn’t a derogatory thing. He just liked girls.”

Koch also drew flack for his name, which is pronounced “cook.” Rather than wrestle with the hard-to-pronounce name, Larson said, friends playfully called him Cookie.

They also teased him for his taste in music.

“He listened to rap all the time and we’d make fun of him for it,” said Spc. Brandon Kottke, 24.

But friends and colleagues praised Koch for his hard work, generosity and dedication.

“He loved [his job],” Kottke said. “ ‘It’s where the action is,’ he would say.”

“I think Brent would want us to go back out there,” said Spc. Matthew Borkenhagen, 23.

“He came to us as a friend and soldier,” Larson said. “He left us a brother and hero.”


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