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U.S. Army Pfc. David Foley, based in Vilseck, Germany, was deployed to Kirkuk, Iraq, when he learned Friday that his older brother, Spc. Thomas Arthur Foley III of the 101st Airborne Division, died near Baghdad.

U.S. Army Pfc. David Foley, based in Vilseck, Germany, was deployed to Kirkuk, Iraq, when he learned Friday that his older brother, Spc. Thomas Arthur Foley III of the 101st Airborne Division, died near Baghdad. (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)

BASHUR AIRFIELD, Iraq — His gear at his feet, U.S. Army Pfc. David Foley stood stoically on the concrete airfield ramp waiting for a lift out of Iraq.

It was dusk Saturday, and in less than an hour, a C-17 aircraft would land to take Foley a step closer to his parent’s home in western Tennessee. He looked tired. He felt numb.

On Friday, at the airfield in Kirkuk, a sergeant major, his unit’s first sergeant and another soldier approached the Bradley mechanic from Vilseck, Germany, and summoned him into a room, away from the others.

“I thought I had a mission,” the 22-year-old said. “I was tired of being bored.”

Instead, an Army chaplain walked in.

“When the chaplain came in to meet me, I knew something was up,” Foley said.

A moment later he was sitting in a chair, trying to contemplate the death of his older brother, his only sibling.

They didn’t tell him much, uttering something about privacy. He recalls hearing “south of Baghdad” and “a few days ago,” but that was it.

“I’m going to find out,” Foley said. “I just hope it wasn’t something stupid, like friendly fire.”

Spc. Thomas Arthur Foley III, 23, fought for 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky. He died April 14 from an accidental grenade explosion south of Baghdad. He was assigned to the division’s 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment.

Foley said he introduced Thomas to his future wife, Paulette. Last fall, the couple was blessed with their first child, a son they named Logan.

Foley took the tragic news like a soldier. The Army is a hardened group. It has to be, in most cases.

“I sat down for five minutes,” he said, “and I shed about three tears. Then I got up and said, ‘What do I have to do to go home?’”

Senior members of Task Force 1-63 Armor, an immediate ready force based in Vilseck and the unit Foley is attached to, made it a priority Saturday to get him to Bashur airfield.

The Air Force’s 86th Expeditionary Contingency Response Group, which controls the base, got Foley a seat on the next plane bound for Germany. From there, it’s a plane ride away from the United States.

“I like [the Army] so far, except for the distance from home,” he said as the airfield buzz intensified during shift change. “But there is no telling where I go from here.”

The younger Foley never intended to make the military a career.

His brother, on the other hand, had spent nearly four years in uniform, and had raised his right hand for three more. Thomas Foley was a mechanic, too, but he also operated a Humvee equipped with a turret to fire Stinger missiles.

Joining the Army “was one of the best things he ever did,” David Foley said of his brother.

Marrying Paulette was the best of all, especially since they didn’t hit it off right away, according to their matchmaker.

“At first, she didn’t like him. She said his attitude was all wrong,” said Foley, who described his brother at that time as “obnoxious, loud, an attention getter, but he always knew when to quit.”

Meeting Paulette changed his life, and his attitude.

“He did everything he could for her,” Foley said.

The brothers were close in many ways. They were born a year and 17 days apart. The last time they spoke to each other was by phone on March 20, two days after David turned 22.

“I wanted to take his place [on the front lines] because he just got a family going,” Foley said. “He told me that if anything happened to him, I should take care of his wife and kid, but nothing prepares you for what happens. It’s just unreal.”

Asked what enduring memories he has of his brother, Foley laughed as only a kid brother could. They fought often growing up. Many brothers do.

But they always — always — made up on the spot, and then would head for the neighborhood park to shoot hoops, or into the house to play video games.

Their stepfather, Brian Darden, is a veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He and their mother are proud of the boys. Now they have to bury one of them.

“I know my brother is not coming back,” Foley said. “The next time I see him he will be in an open casket.”

Death had tapped Foley on the shoulder about a week before he deployed, when an older soldier — a mentor — was killed in a car accident in Germany. Now his only brother is gone.

“The finality is going to take me down for awhile, but I’ll bounce back,” he said. “They say death comes in threes. I just pray that won’t be the case.”

Kevin Doughterty is embedded with the Air Force at Bashur airfield in northern Iraq.

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