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AVIANO, Italy — The three members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan last week shared one thing in common: They all contemplated making the military a career.

Staff Sgt. Romanes L. Woodard, 30, of Hertford, N.C., enlisted shortly after high school and was well into his career. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment at Camp Ederle.

“He always talked about making it 20 years,” Woodard’s brother, Martelly, said Tuesday by telephone from Belvidere, N.C. He had a 6-year-old daughter, Ebony, his aunt, Laverne Woodard, said.

Spc. Daniel Freeman of Cincinnati enlisted a year before he graduated after dreaming of becoming an infantryman since he was 11 or 12 years old, his stepfather, Samuel Birkan, said by phone from Ohio. Freeman, also assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th, had recently talked about switching to the Air Force after visiting a base in Germany, Birkan said.

Spc. Sascha Struble, of Philadelphia, N.Y., and also a member of the 1st Battalion, 508th, enlisted months after he graduated high school to help pay for college, his father, Mike Struble, said. He found that he enjoyed the adventure and camaraderie of Army life and talked about extending his service commitment, the father said by telephone from Hanna, Ind.

Freeman and Struble were both 20 years old, the youngest of the 18 people on board the CH-47 Chinook helicopter when it crashed in a sandstorm April 6 near Ghazni, Afghanistan.

As of late Tuesday, Pentagon officials still had Woodard and Struble listed as missing. However, the family members of all four soldiers stationed in Italy have been told that the soldiers died in the crash.

Among them was Maj. Edward J. Murphy, 36, of South Carolina and a member of the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force.

He also was a career military man. His wife, who lives in Vicenza, said on Tuesday that she needed more time to deal with the loss before she would speak about her husband, according to base spokeswoman Margret Menzies.

The loss has been devastating for soldiers’ family members.

“The consolation is he was doing what he wanted to do,” said Rebecca Birkan, Freeman’s mother.

The most difficult day for Mike Struble was Thursday, when Army officers flew to Orlando, Fla., where he and his wife and two of their daughters were on vacation.

“I knew it wasn’t good,” Mike Struble said of learning that the officials were paying him a visit. Although official word hasn’t come down that Struble died in the crash, his father said that after a discussion with his son’s battalion commander he held out very little hope that his son was still alive.

“I just felt like without saying anything he was letting us know,” Struble said.

Rebecca Birkan said she was still waiting for the Army to give her details of her son’s last mission.

“I want to know that he was doing what he was trained to do,” Birkan said. “It would lend some meaning, not just for me, but all the people around me who need meaning in all this, who need a reason.”


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