The Vilseck, Germany, community is coming to grips with a Bradley fighting vehicle accident in Khan Bani Saad, Iraq, that took the lives of five 3rd Brigade Combat Team soldiers on Monday.

The countdown to the end of the 1st Infantry Division’s deployment has dwindled down to days, but Vilseck families and soldiers now must pause and prepare for another memorial service.

The soldiers involved in the accident have not been identified, pending notification of next of kin.

“They have been gearing up for the homecoming, not another memorial service,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Paul Kauffman, 3rd Brigade Combat Team rear detachment chaplain. “The spouses who are waiting for their soldiers to come back have been affected by this. They were thinking they were over the hump.”

It was the second time that five soldiers were killed in one incident during the 1st ID’s deployment to Iraq, the division’s largest loss of life in a single incident. Five other soldiers also were killed in a car bombing in Samarra in July.

Losing five soldiers in one day so close to the end of the deployment — and in an accident — only adds to the pain, said Maj. Brian Maddox, 3rd Brigade rear detachment officer in charge.

“The number is the first thing that gets attention, the magnitude of it,” Maddox said. “It’s tragic in and of itself to lose soldiers, but the fact that it was an accident makes it doubly tragic.”

“When you know that soldiers are in a combat area, you expect casualties, but you don’t expect these kinds of things,” he said. “They sneak up on you. It has hit all of the [3rd Brigade] spouses. They have been worn down over this year.”

“With an accident like this, the families have been reminded that, even though the deployment is almost over, the soldiers are still not out of danger,” Kauffman said.

The 3rd Brigade has endured its share of casualties during the deployment.

In November, the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment lost its command sergeant major, a company commander, a company executive officer and a team noncommissioned officer within one week in the battle for Fallujah.

More than 700 people from the community turned out for the Nov. 17 memorial service to honor Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Faulkenburg, Capt. Sean Sims, 1st Lt. Edward Iwan and Sgt. James Matteson. Sims’ wife, Heidi, also was a teacher at the Vilseck Elementary School.

The same resources the rear detachment used to help families of 2-2 Infantry cope then are in place now, Maddox said.

“We have lined up mental health counselors and social workers with units and family members,” Maddox said.

The rear detachment will offer small group sessions with the counselors and chaplains to help families from the community cope with their grief and talk about their fears and worries concerning their own soldiers who are still deployed, Maddox said.

Additionally, Department of Defense Dependents Schools has a crisis intervention plan set up at each school, said Frank O’Gara, DODDS-Europe spokesman.

The crisis-reaction teams are comprised of the schools’ principals and representatives from organizations such as Army Community Service, which would normally provide services for families.

The teams discuss what kinds of casualty assistance resources can be made available to students and families, O’Gara said.

“When a child loses a parent, it’s not only the child who is affected, but very often the whole class,” O’Gara said. “For instance, if it is a fourth-grade class, all of the other fourth-graders may start thinking: ‘Will my Daddy be next?’ or ‘Will my Mommy be next?’”

There is little that 3rd Brigade can say about the soldiers until next of kin have been notified, including whether the soldiers were married or single or if they have family members in Europe.

But as far as the 3rd Brigade is concerned, it has lost members of its family.

“In general, everybody will be affected by this, because we lost soldiers from the community,” Kauffman said. “Even if they were not personally connected to them, those soldiers were part of the 3rd Brigade family.”

A memorial service is tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday at the Vilseck Chapel.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now