BAUMHOLDER, Germany — The soldiers of the 47th Forward Support Battalion made it through a 15-month deployment to Iraq without a single soldier killed in combat. But Tuesday they mourned the loss of three of their own, even as final preparations were made for welcome home festivities for thousands of troops and their families and friends.

“In talking with my battalion, I got the sense that they are (a) mad and (b) upset,” said 47th FSB commander Lt. Col. Michel Russell. “The battalion misses our family members and some are taking it more personally than others.”

Sgt. Alexander Westbrooks, 26; Spc. Laron Gadson, 24; and Spc. Michael S. Clark Jr., 22, died Sunday in a single-vehicle crash on the autobahn north of Kaiserslautern.

They had returned from a deployment to Iraq only days before as part of the 47th FSB’s Company B, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. The names of two other soldiers who were injured in the accident have not been released, but they were also assigned to the 47th FSB. While in Iraq, the 47th FSB provided medical, maintenance and logistical support to Forward Operating Base Hammer and Camp Striker, both near Baghdad.

“What I told the soldiers,” Russell said, “is not to just look at the lives lost, but let this also give us a regrettable lesson in taking care of one another, and doing things more responsibly.”

German police suspect the accident might have involved alcohol because a doctor who performed first aid smelled it at the crash site. The crash is still under investigation, however.

"I think a loss like this would be hard to take at any time," said Lt. Col. David Raugh, rear detachment commander. "But to make it through 15 months, and then have this happen, there is no easy way to deal with that."

All 2nd BCT commanders will be talking to their soldiers about the crash and alcohol consumption, Raugh said.

"The unit chain of command is concerned about this," he said.

A memorial service for Westbrooks, Gadson and Clark is scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday at Chapel One. It comes a day before the big welcome home bash for the brigade. On Tuesday, people scurried around the base putting the final touches on tents, and soldiers rehearsed on Minnick Field.

"It’s very challenging for our soldiers to prepare for the ceremonies, and they also have to take the time to reflect on what happened," said Staff Sgt. Brian Herbert of Company B, 47th FSB.

He said the loss of the three soldiers was tantamount to his own children being killed.

"I’ll never get to see what these soldiers would have become," he said.

Westbrooks, of New York City, was an automated logistical specialist with the 47th FSB. His recent deployment was his second to Iraq. He had previously served downrange as a supply clerk with the Mannheim, Germany-based 515th Transportation Company.

He is survived by his daughter, Alexis Westbrooks, and his mother, Janice Westbrooks of Jackson, Miss., according to information released by the 2nd BCT on Tuesday.

Gadson, of Greensboro, N.C., was a light-wheeled vehicle mechanic. He is survived by his wife, Nikja Gadson, and his daughter, Alanna Gadson of Greensboro, as well as his parents, Lawrence and Glenda Gadson of High Point, N.C. Gadson joined the Army in 2006, and his Iraq deployment was his first.

Clark was an electronic device repairer, assigned to the 47th FSB. He is survived by his mother, Jennifer Wilcox, and his father, Michael Clark, of Douglas, Ga. Clark joined the Army in 2006, and was also serving his first tour in Iraq.

Russell said he hopes the accident will be a lesson for the rest of his soldiers, even as they mourn the loss of their friends. He also sends his prayers and sympathies to the soldiers’ families, who he said are hurting more than his unit.

"I wanted no memorials on the battlefield or in the garrison," he said. "I’m sad, I’m mad, and it does hurt."

Like his soldiers, he is left to wonder if there is any more that he could have done.

"Maybe if I had lit a candle in church like I did every Sunday downrange," he said, "things might have been different."

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now