VICENZA, Italy — In its previous yearlong rotation to Afghanistan in 2005-2006, the 173rd Airborne Brigade returned to Caserma Ederle minus 17 soldiers who fell in the line of duty.

About halfway through its current rotation, 26 Sky Soldiers — including 21 based in Vicenza — have died since the unit deployed in May.

Five were remembered Tuesday in a ceremony at the base chapel: Capt. Matthew Charles Ferrara, Spc. Joseph Michael Lancour, Cpl. Sean Kanae-Aldrique Langevin, Sgt. Jeffery Scott Mersman and Cpl. Lester Gomez Roque were all killed Nov. 9 in an ambush while returning to their base.

Comrades serving in the brigade’s rear detachment remembered each soldier with a mix of laughter and tears.

Capt. Matthew Heimerle said Ferrara, 24, didn’t exactly cut an imposing figure at 5 feet 5 inches. “And that’s counting about 2 inches of hair,” he said. But he called him “a giant” in many respects.

Ferrara was very athletic and was a member of the track team at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Heimerle said Ferrara tried out many adventure sports while stationed in Europe.But he wasn’t all brawn. He scored a 1580 out of a possible 1600 on his Scholastic Aptitude Test.

Ferrara led the defense of an outpost under attack in August and has been nominated for the Silver Star Medal for his actions that day.

His three brothers are either serving in the military or attending college to prepare for military careers.

He is survived by his parents, Mario and Linda, of Torrance, Calif.; three brothers and a sister. A dual citizen, he is believed to be the first New Zealand national to die while serving with U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Roque, 23, was born in the Philippines, but his family moved to Torrance as well. He became Company C’s senior medic and was well-respected for his skills. Unlike Ferrara, Roque struggled with some aspects of physical training, according to Staff Sgt. Phillip Creighton.

“He had tremendous heart, though,” Staff Sgt. Phillip Creighton said. “He would run on the weekends, just so he wouldn’t let anyone down. What he didn’t know was that any squad leader would have carried the little guy around, just to have him with them.”

Roque, who was set to be married in January, is survived by his parents and a brother.

Mersman, 23, had the most time in service of the five, joining the Army after high school. In fact, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Stevan Horning said that Mersman finished a semester early — joining the Army in January 2002, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Deployed three times to Iraq, Mersman was excused from taking part in patrols because of a hearing loss he had suffered in Iraq, according to Staff Sgt. James Fugman. But he persuaded his superiors to send him out where he was needed.

Mersman is survived by his wife, Narcissa Lynn; four children; and his parents.

Langevin, 23, had a way of cheering people up with his smile, according to Staff Sgt. Conrad Begaye.

“He had this dumb dance he would do before we went out on foot patrol,” Begaye said. “He called it a rain dance. And sure enough, a few drops would come down. But not enough to stop the patrol.”

Begaye said he was there when Langevin learned his wife, Jessica, was pregnant and said his friend couldn’t have been happier. Their daughter is due to arrive in February. In addition to his wife, Langevin is survived by his parents of Walnut Creek, Calif.

Lancour, 21, volunteered his services as the unit barber and barbecue master — though not at the same time. He was a big Batman fan. And more than willing to try some outrageous stunts.

“Sometimes, he astonished people just for laughs,” Horning said.

Lancour is survived by his parents and two sisters.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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