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Mideast edition, Friday, September 21, 2007

SCHWEINFURT, Germany — They were like brothers, both on and off the battlefield.

And at a memorial service Thursday at Ledward Barracks Chapel, Army Sgts. Edward L. Brooks and Kevin A. Gilbertson were remembered for their work ethic and positive attitudes as members of the 1st Infantry Division, 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, based in Schweinfurt.

“I am proud to have known these men, for when the day comes that the United States must count the cost of liberty, I will sound the names, Edward Brooks and Kevin Gilbertson, amongst the roll,” said Capt. Tom McMurtrie, the battalion’s rear detachment commander.

On Aug. 29 — the 364th day of their deployment — Brooks, 25, and Gilbertson, 24, both members of Company C, suffered fatal wounds from a suicide bombing while conducting security and observation operations, southwest of Ramadi, Iraq. Brooks died at the scene, while Gilbertson died two days later at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

They were both posthumously promoted to sergeant and awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart, the second for Brooks.

“Unlike so many of us who will pass from this world old and feeble in our beds, Brooks and Gilbertson died with their boots on the ground, fingers on the trigger, face to face with evil men. They died like soldiers... They can never be replaced, their deeds never replicated or forgotten,” said McMurtrie, reading from comments made by Lt. Col. Miciotto Johnson, commander of Task Force 1-77 Armor, at a memorial ceremony in Ramadi earlier this month.

Brooks and Gilbertson were roommates in Iraq, both gunners. Brooks also served as a driver and a loader, Gilbertson as an assistant tank commander.

Just over a year ago, Gilbertson was the best man in Brooks’ wedding.

The men’s widows, Ivana Brooks and Nina Gilbertson, sat clutched together during the ceremony, leaning on one another as they — and other members of the men’s families — were escorted out of the chapel after taps was played and the volleys fired.

About 300 people, half of them uniformed soldiers and commanders, attended the morning service. It’s been an all-too-common occurrence in the community, which, with the deaths of Brooks and Gilbertson, has now lost 59 troops since the main body of the “Dagger” brigade deployed last August.

To some, it seems the metal signs directing people to the memorial service have become permanent fixtures on base.

“They fold them up when there’s no service, but you still know they’re there,” said Amanda Alonzo, whose husband, a sergeant with 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, is still deployed. “I hate seeing it. It makes you think, ‘Oh gosh, again.’”

But with several advanced party units already back from Iraq and the rest of the brigade expected back in October and November, spouses such as Alonzo pray they don’t see the signs down again before then.

Each memorial service “really helps heal the family and the community,” said Lt. Col. Robert Whittle, commander of Task Force Guardian, the brigade’s rear detachment operation.

Still, he said, “we’re really looking forward to getting them back soon.”

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