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SEOUL — Three 2nd Infantry Division soldiers were killed in Iraq on Tuesday, according to the Defense Department.

Spc. Nicholas R. Idalski, 23, of Crown Point, Ind.; Spc. Christopher L. Hoskins, 21, of Danielson, Conn.; and Spc. Brian A. Vaughn, 23, of Pell City, Ala.; were killed by enemy small-arms fire during combat in Ramadi.

They were assigned to the Army’s 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, which deployed last summer to Iraq from Camp Hovey, South Korea.

The latest deaths bring the total number of Strike Force soldiers killed in Iraq to 68, according to a Stars and Stripes tally.

Friends and relatives gathered Thursday on the front porch of the Idalski family home in Crown Point, Ind., to share stories, pictures and memories of a man they say died doing something he truly loved, the Post-Tribune of nearby Gary, Indiana, reported Friday.

“This was the one job we knew he loved the most,” older brother Nathan Idalski said. “Even when he was doing the most mundane thing, you couldn’t get him to say anything horrible about it.”

Idalski’s other brother, Steve, told the Post-Tribune that he last spoke with Nick about a month ago.

He said that although his brother wasn’t able to call much, when he did get a chance, he called everyone. He said he had several 4 a.m. wake-up calls from Nick, who would be in the middle of his day in Iraq.

“He’d say, ‘I thought you might be getting ready for work right now,’” Steve said with a laugh.

He said the last couple of times they spoke, his brother sounded like he was ready to come home.

“He started getting weary,” Steve Idalski said. “But he would never complain.”

Steve Idalski told the Post-Tribune that his brother didn’t talk much on the phone about his experiences in Iraq.

He would always say he was saving the stories to share over cocktails once he got home.

Hoskins, a driver of a Bradley fighting vehicle and a gunner on a Humvee, was remembered as a quiet man who never sought the spotlight but always looked to do his best, said John Fulco, English Department chairman at Killingly High School, from where Hoskins graduated in 2001.

“He was always the hard worker in the classroom, an inspiration to other kids,” Fulco told the Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin.

While news of soldiers dying is a constant on the news, “the reality of it coming to Danielson just never struck me,” Fulco said.

It came as no great surprise to his family when he enlisted in the Army two years after graduation from Killingly, where his father is a longtime English teacher.

“For him to make that choice was a natural. He loved the military. He thought what he was doing was important,” Rick Hoskins told the Bulletin.

And despite the numbness that accompanied the news of his son’s death, Hoskins said he takes comfort in the knowing his son “died doing what he believed in.”

Vaughn’s job as a combat medic took him into the thick of the fighting in Iraq, the Birmingham (Ala.) Post-Herald noted Friday.

“He was there on the line with them to take care of the guys,” said his uncle, David Vaughn of Helena, Ala. “And he said it didn’t matter if it was an American soldier or an Iraqi insurgent. His job was to save lives.”

“This was his last mission,” said David Vaughn. “He was due to come home in 30 days. If he just could have made it through the night and got back to base. He had already sent his personal effects home from Iraq.”

Family members had been planning a homecoming celebration.

He hadn’t shown much interest in medicine before he volunteered to become a medic, David Vaughn told the Post-Herald, but he had always wanted to help people.

“He saw there was a need, just like when he was a kid in school,” he said. “He was always running out of lunch money and then when his parents asked him, he said, ‘Well, there were kids there that couldn’t afford to eat, and I’m giving them my money.’ He would do anything and everything for you.”

The Strike Force’s soldiers are expected to move to Fort Carson, Colo., when their Iraq tour ends.

At least 1,329 U.S. soldiers have died as a result of hostile action since March 19, 2003, according to the Defense Department fact sheet updated Thursday.

Stripes’ T.D. Flack and Pat Dickson contributed to this story.

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