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Two lieutenant colonels riding in the same vehicle were killed by a roadside bomb despite a policy for troops in the Baghdad area that states that key leaders must not ride together.

Lt. Cols. Eric J. Kruger, 40, and Paul J. Finken, 40, were killed Thursday when the Humvee they were riding in hit a roadside bomb in eastern Baghdad. Also killed was Staff Sgt. Joseph A. Gage, 28, who was in the Humvee at the time.

Kruger, second in command of the 3,800 soldiers in the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, died a few days after arriving in Baghdad as part of an advance team for his unit, which is replacing Finken’s unit with the 101st Airborne Division, media reports say.

An Oct. 25 Multi-National Division-Baghdad policy affecting troops assigned or attached to it prohibits key leaders from riding in the same vehicle, said Lt. Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, a spokeswoman for Multi-National Corps-Iraq.

“The policy states that key leaders conducting battlefield circulation are to travel in separate vehicles, not in the same vehicle,” Martin-Hing said Tuesday.

The policy applies to senior officers and NCOs at the brigade, battalion and company level, she said.

The policy was prompted by an earlier incident in which two majors were in a vehicle that hit a roadside bomb, Martin-Hing said. In that incident, one major was killed and the other wounded, she said.

Asked why Kruger and Finken were riding together despite the policy, Martin-Hing referred comment to Multi-National Division-Baghdad spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington.

Withington said he did not know why the two officers were in the same car but their deaths were under investigation.

He also declined to comment on Multi-National Division-Baghdad’s policy prohibiting key commanders from riding together, citing security concerns.

“We have to protect our tactics, techniques and procedures,” Withington said.

Maj. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the 2nd BCT, 2nd ID, said he did not have any further details on the officers’ deaths.

Queried by Stars and Stripes if the two officers knew of the MND-B policy, Ryan said in a Tuesday e-mail, “Hopefully the investigation will shed some light.”

The Nov. 2 incident marks the first time since the war began that two officers of such high rank were killed on the same mission, according to icasualties.org, a Web site that tracks U.S. military deaths in Iraq. Of the 2,837 U.S. military deaths in Iraq, there have been 15 lieutenant colonels killed, according to the Web site. There have been only two deaths of higher-ranking officers in Iraq, both colonels.

A safety planner for the 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), based at Camp Taqaddum in Anbar province, said his unit does not have a policy regarding officers riding together through hostile areas.

“There’s always a safety plan, but no life is more or less valuable than any other,” said 2nd Lt. Matthew Taylor, officer-in-charge of the unit’s personal security detachment. “We look out for the safety of every Marine, regardless of rank.”

However, Taylor said it is normal for Marines with similar jobs, regardless of rank, to be spread throughout a convoy. He said, for example, “if I had two corpsmen in a convoy, I wouldn’t put them together. That’s basic mission planning,” Taylor said.

Capt. Jason B. Irwin, rear detachment commander for the 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, hasn’t been in Iraq in two years. But he said his experiences led him to the conclusion that rank played no role in blunting the peril faced when traveling outside the wire.

“In my opinion, the differences in dangers were no different from the highest-ranking general to the lowest-ranking private,” Irwin said.

Reporters Matt Millham in Darmstadt, Germany, and Charlie Coon in Anbar, Iraq, contributed to this report.


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