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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Department of Defense announced Tuesday that an Okinawa-based Marine was one of seven servicemembers killed in the Feb. 7 helicopter crash in Anbar province, Iraq.

Cpl. Thomas Saba, 30, of Toms River, N.J., and six others were killed when their CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, flying in support of combat operations, crashed about 20 miles outside of Baghdad near Fallujah. Saba was assigned to Okinawa-based Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262, part of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.

Saba is the fourth Okinawa- based Marine to die in Iraq in 2007. He was a CH-46 helicopter crew chief who was promoted to corporal in February 2005, according to a Marine Corps Base Camp Butler spokesman.

Cpl. Jennifer M. Parcell, 20, with 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, also was killed Feb. 7; Sgts. Michael M. Kashkoush, 24, and Gary S. Johnston, 21, both with Okinawa’s 3rd Marine Division, III MEF, were killed Jan. 23. All three died in Anbar province.

Sgt. Douglas Paul, with a Marine casualty assistance unit, told the Ocean County (N.J.) Observer on Saturday that Saba was scheduled to be discharged April 22 and would have been out of the Corps by March without having ever been to Iraq.

Instead, Paul said, Saba extended his contract by seven months so that he could deploy with his squadron, also known as the Flying Tigers.

The squadron embarked to Iraq in January, its first combat deployment since Vietnam, according to Marine reports.

Saba was killed less than two weeks after he arrived in Iraq with the squadron.

His mother, Barbara Saba, told the Staten Island Advance, “He didn’t have to go to Iraq. He chose to go. He wanted to be with his brothers.”

An aunt, Sonja Debs, told the Advance that after Sept. 11, 2001, fighting for his country was something Saba felt he had to do.

His father, Tony Saba, said, “Whenever asked about the war, he would emphasize the need to defend America. He said, ‘What do you think I went in for?’ ”

In addition to Saba, four other Marines were killed in the crash: Capt. Jennifer J. Harris, 28; 1st Lt. Jared M. Landaker, 25; and Sgts. Travis D. Pfister, 27, and James R. Tijerina, 26. All four were with Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 24, were killed in the crash. Two sailors were killed in the crash were: Petty Officer 1st Class Gilbert Minjares Jr., 31, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Manuel A. Ruiz, 21, both assigned to North Carolina-based Marine units.

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