Saturday, September 30, 2006

Rene Martinez killed during combat operations

A decorated young Marine from Southwest Miami-Dade was killed in action Sunday in Iraq, the military announced Monday.

Lance Cpl. Rene Martinez, 20, died during a combat operation against enemy forces in Iraq's al Anbar province.

Martinez, a mortarman, joined the armed forces in July 2004 and was deployed to Iraq about three months ago.

His unit, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., has spent its tour of duty training and working with Iraqi security forces, said 1st Lt. Barry Edwards, a 2nd Marine Division spokesman.

''In doing so, they were denying insurgent strongholds in and around several Iraqi cities,'' Edwards said.

Martinez, a graduate of Miami Sunset Senior High, wanted to be a Marine since he was a little boy, his sister Maria ''Gaby'' Martinez said.

Martinez, 19, last heard from her big brother on Sept. 13. He was a dedicated service member, but when Rene Martinez spoke with his family, he avoided talking about his experiences in Iraq, his sister said.

Instead, they talked about happier times and future plans. The siblings planned to move back to Miami around the same time, when Gaby Martinez graduates from college in Georgia and when her brother got out of the service.

''He was determined to finish his four years with a good record, then he wanted to come back home and study accounting,'' Gaby Martinez said. ``He had a good heart.''

Rene Martinez had been assigned to the 2nd Marine Division since January 2005. In that time, he earned medals for combat action, overseas deployment and global terrorism service.

Read the rest at the Miami Herald

Velton Locklear III, on 2nd tour of duty, killed by roadside bomb

A 1995 Eastwood High School graduate who followed his father's footsteps into the U.S. Army was killed Saturday when a bomb exploded while he was on patrol in Iraq, his family said Monday.

Sgt. Velton Locklear III was a husband, the father of two boys and a dedicated soldier who last month started his second tour of duty in Iraq, relatives said.

Locklear, 29, of the 25th Infantry, 3rd Brigade 2-27th Infantry Battalion, was killed when an improvised explosive device destroyed the vehicle in which he was riding while on patrol near the city of Kirkuk, his family said.

"He wanted to be an infantry soldier. He was interested in being up front where all the action is," his father, retired Sgt. Maj. Velton Locklear Jr., said via telephone from Laredo.

Locklear was born in El Paso while his dad was stationed at Fort Bliss. He was the only son of three children. In high school, he was a standout wide receiver, wearing No. 4 for the Eastwood Troopers.

"I've had so many kids, but a few stick out that you really remember. He was one of those. Everybody liked him," said Wade Ardoin, Eastwood's head football coach who was the school's offensive coordinator in 1995.

After a semester in college, Locklear joined the Army, his father said.

"I was extremely proud he joined the military. I encouraged him to do that and sometimes I feel guilty for doing that. (But) he definitely enjoyed the military life," the elder Locklear, a Junior ROTC instructor in Laredo, said.

The senior Locklear recalled his son's passion for the Army displayed in a telephone call one night.

"He called me from the range and he said, 'Dad, I want you to hear something.' He put the phone up in the air. They were firing semi-automatic weapons in the range. He loved the Army. He ate it up. The camaraderie. All that Hoo-ah stuff."

His father said Locklear didn't talk much about his first tour in Iraq from April 2004 to February 2005 but did say that even though Iraq was a dangerous place he felt it was making progress when the elections took place.

Cliff Williams of El Paso described his cousin Velton as an athlete with "a heart of gold. He was a very kind person, very humble. He was a brave soldier who loved what he did."

The funeral will take place in El Paso, where much of the family resides.

Service arrangements are pending.

Locklear's wife, Denise, and sons, 5-year-old Nathan and 7-year-old Velton IV, are coming into town from Hawaii, where Locklear was stationed.

"Velton, he is a living legacy," his father said. "He served his country courageously and we are extremely proud of him, and his family can be proud of him. He paid the ultimate price for his family and his country, and we will always love him for that."

From the El Paso Times

Carlos Dominguez killed by roadside bomb

SAVANNAH, Ga. - A Beatles melody has been running through Lisa Dominguez's head ever since she learned her father was killed Saturday in Iraq.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is the title of the song Carlos Dominguez would sing to his little girl, now 28. But he would always substitute "Lucy" with her name, Lisa.

"He used to personalize that song for me," she said Tuesday. "He was a very loving man. When he gave, he gave with his whole heart."

Staff Sgt. Dominguez, 57, an Army reservist and 20-year Savannah resident who was called back to active duty, was killed Saturday when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee in Taji, Iraq, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.

Staff Sgt. Dominguez deployed to Iraq in April, and he kept in contact with his family through weekly e-mails and telephone calls, said his wife, Kim Dominguez.

As a civil affairs specialist, he was helping Iraqis rebuild their nation and was proud of his work, she said.

"He was helping the Iraqi people bring freedom and peace," Kim Dominguez said. "He said it was dangerous, but he was accomplishing his duty."

A native of Los Angeles, Staff Sgt. Dominguez and his family moved to Savannah nearly 20 years ago. He is survived by his wife, two daughters and a son.

From the Augusta Chronicle

Windell Jaryd Simmons killed by roadside bomb

HOPKINSVILLE - Friends of an Army soldier from Western Kentucky who was killed last week in Iraq remembered Windell J. Simmons as a leader and energetic friend.

Simmons, 20, known by his middle name, Jeryd, joined the Army after he graduated from Christian County High School in 2004. He died of injuries he suffered Saturday in Taji, Iraq, when a roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle during combat operations, the military said.

He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.

One of his former high school teachers remembered Simmons yesterday as a serious student who was quiet in class.

"I had Jeryd for two years in pre-calculus and (advanced placement) calculus," April Harris told the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville. "He could have taken the easy route, but he wanted to prepare himself."

She said she knew he had an interest in joining the military, and it broke her heart when she heard Simmons had been killed in combat.

One of his high school friends, Tad Abukuppeh, said Simmons enjoyed life and his friends.

"No matter what it was, he was always energetic about anything we did together," said Abukuppeh, now a student at Western Kentucky University. "He was like the ringleader -- he was the best."

Friends said he enjoyed a popular interactive video game known as Dance, Dance Revolution, in which players stand on a mat and dance to the beat of music while following video instructions on where to step.

Another friend, Justin Baker, said Simmons was a leader among his peers.

"He was pretty quiet in school, but when you got him out of school he was one of the funniest guys you would meet," said Baker, who attends Hopkinsville Community College. "He was the idea man. If we were bored, he would think of something to do."

Read the rest at the Lexington Herald Leader

Comrades in arms remember, honor Eric Kavanagh

When Pfc. Eric M. Kavanagh of Glen Burnie, Md., was told at the last minute to grab his bags to catch a ride to war, he didn’t hesitate.

“He was downstairs, equipment in hand, with a fat smile on his face, ready to go,” recalled Pfc. Severin Michalski, one of Kavanagh’s close friends.

Michalski told this story Wednesday, about six weeks after arriving in Baghdad and a week after a roadside bomb tore through Kavanagh’s up-armored Humvee during a combat operation. Kavanaugh, 20, was the first member of his unit, Company A of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, to die in Iraq.

The Schweinfurt, Germany-based battalion is part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.

At a memorial ceremony for Kavanagh in Schweinfurt on Friday, members of the 1-26 rear detachment retold remarks made at a similar ceremony in Baghdad two days earlier.

In Baghdad, Lt. Col. Eric Schacht, commander of the 1-26, offered up parts of a conversation he’d had a few days earlier with Kavanagh’s mother, Rhonda.

“The first thing she wanted to know was how Eric’s friend, Tom, was doing and if she could send Tom a package,” Schacht said. Spc. Tom Wise was injured in the attack that killed Kavanagh.

Rhonda Kavanagh told Schacht that soon after her son joined the Army, she had a dog tag made with a picture of him on it, which she wore everywhere.

“She told me she will always wear this special dog tag,” Schacht said.

Kavanagh’s mother had a lot to be proud of. In his nine months with the Blue Spaders, her son had earned a reputation all good soldiers want to have.

“Eric was the type of soldier that, no matter what time the mission ended, he would be outside with his flashlight, checking the fluids on the vehicle,” said Staff Sgt. Hy Taylor, Kavanagh’s squad leader, during the Baghdad ceremony.

Michalski, who also spoke at the Baghdad ceremony, said Kavanagh was always doing something extra, even if it wasn’t his job.

He recalled that when Kavanagh joined the unit as a dismounted infantryman, Army-speak for foot soldier, his only job was to “go back and sit, listen to music and clean his rifle,” Michalski said.

“For some strange reason, he was out in the cold motor pool, complaint-free, changing track pads with a bunch of dirty mounted guys,” Michalski said. Kavanagh later became a Bradley and Humvee driver.

“Eric, you are the man, a soldier, and our brother,” Michalski said. “Save us a spot up there, big man, and if there is a bar, I’ll buy the first round.”

From Stars and Stripes

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Eric Kavanagh honored, laid to rest

Jennifer Hartman honored, laid to rest

Hundreds of people turned out Saturday morning to pay their respects to U.S. Army Sgt. Jennifer M. Hartman, a New Ringgold woman who was killed Sept. 14 in Iraq. Those who attended the funeral services at the Hartman Funeral Home, 1791 West Penn Pike (Route 309), West Penn Township, remembered the 21-year-old as a woman who had a zest for life and was always eager to lend a helping hand to those in need.

Hartman, a 2003 graduate of Tamaqua Area High School, was one of three American soldiers killed when a suicide car bomber rammed into an Army barracks at a West Baghdad electrical substation her unit was guarding. Thirty additional American soldiers were injured.

“Jennifer Marie was a loving and caring daughter, sister and friend who was the spirit and lifeblood of our family,” the Hartman family said in a statement, which was read by Lt. Col. Chris Cleaver, public affairs officer for the Pennsylvania National Guard. “She lived for her family and friends, the outdoors, and for driving her four-wheeler on Pennsylvania’s rolling hills. We miss her so much and we will always long for her, but we believe that she died trying to help others gain their freedom. She was a true patriot.” The Hartmans also offered their condolences to the families of Sgt. Aaron Smith of Killen, Texas, and Cpl. Marcus Cain, Crowly, La., who were also killed in the attack.

Hartman was a cook assigned to the 4th Support Battalion, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

Hartman’s parents, David and Bernice Hartman, had said they wished many from the community and beyond would attend the services for their daughter.

So many turned out that shuttle buses had to be used to transport attendees from a parking area at nearby Zion Stone Church to the funeral home.

A number of students from Hartman’s high school class attended the services. Among them were Agustin Gomez and Mary Lichtenberger.

Gomez remembered Hartman as an intelligent girl who helped him with his math and language courses. “She helped me pass,” he said. The two also ate lunch together while in high school, but lost touch for a time after graduation.

Hartman, who had a MySpace profile on the Internet, later located Gomez, and the two rekindled their friendship through e-mails. “I always tried to make her laugh,” said Gomez, who recalled Hartman’s sense of humor. Gomez last spoke to Hartman about a month ago, and said he told her to “be careful” because his cousin was killed in Iraq.

“She was a good friend to all of us, and she will be greatly missed,” Lichtenberger said.

Another of Hartman’s classmates, Ian McGregor, lived just six houses away. McGregor said he moved to his house on Tower Road as a sixth-grade student.

“She was the first person I talked to,” McGregor said, recalling his days as the “new kid.” “She accepted me right away and we were cool.” The two quickly struck up a friendship and would frequently ride their four-wheel all-terrain vehicles on the hills near their homes. McGregor recalled a time when his brother was hurt while riding his ATV with Hartman and a group of friends.

“Jennifer took care of him right away,” he said.

When the Hartman family received news of their daughter’s death, McGregor said that her father promptly wheeled her cherished ATV to the front yard. Atop of the ATV, he placed his daughter’s picture.

“We just started crying,” McGregor said.

Read the rest at the Standard Speaker

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Soldier dies the death she said she feared (Jennifer Hartman)

John McClellan suffers serious head wound in Haditha

Lance Cpl. John McClellan, 20, has a tattoo of shamrocks below his belly button. The image symbolizes the nickname his fellow Marines gave him, “Lucky,” after he was shot in his right arm twice in one week last October, while serving with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Echo Company in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, while serving his second tour overseas, this time in Haditha, Iraq, the 2004 Hickman High School graduate was shot a third time. McClellan was injured when an AK-47 bullet entered his head over his left ear and exited the back of his neck, his mother, Connie McClellan of Columbia, said. During a five-hour surgery at a hospital in Balad, Iraq, doctors removed bone fragments and some brain tissue. He was then transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

His mother said McClellan’s brain swelled as a result of the injury, requiring a low-flying flight to Germany so the air pressure wouldn’t further damage his brain. McClellan is scheduled to arrive today at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. His parents and sister, Jane Bowman, 32, of Chicago, will meet him there.

Connie McClellan said she was thankful for the military’s assistance in taking care of her family’s travel arrangements.

“We’ve been very impressed with the Marines on how they’ve been taking care of us,” she said.

Doctors at the Balad hospital called Connie McClellan and her husband and McClellan’s father, Carl McClellan, around 1 a.m. Wednesday to tell them their son had been shot. His mother said it was the first time she had received the dreaded phone call from a third party, because the two previous times her son had been shot, he was less seriously injured and able to call his parents himself.

Connie McClellan said that when the doctors first called, the prognosis was that if her son survived, he would probably be a vegetable. Thursday morning, however, she said the doctor who called was “jubilant” because McClellan’s condition had improved. Although he was still unconscious, he was responding to commands and his vital signs were good.

“It was an antithesis of the report (Wednesday),” she said. “So what do you think made it happen? I call it a miracle.”

Allison Cooper, 20, who graduated from Hickman with McClellan, said he’s “invincible,” and that she and their other friends “knew if anyone would pull through, he would.”

McClellan left for Iraq on Sept. 11 of this year.

Read the rest at the Missourian

U.S.: Captured al-Qaida suspect was in 'final stages' of planning Green Zone attack

A police officer stands guard as police cars patrol a road during Friday's curfew in Baghdad

(AP) The U.S. military said a captured al-Qaida suspect and members of his cell were "in the final stages" of planning an attack on the Green Zone. An unprecedented curfew prompted by the arrest left millions of Baghdadis stranded at home on Saturday without supplies during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The U.S. military said the suspected al-Qaida in Iraq member was arrested late Friday at the home of senior Sunni Arab political leader Adnan al-Dulaimi, where he was working as a personal bodyguard.

Al-Dulaimi is a member of the Iraqi Accordance Front _ the largest Sunni coalition in the 275-member parliament, where it holds 44 seats _ and the military was quick to distance the politician from the raid, stressing that he was "not the target."

"This operation in no way implies Dr. al-Dulaimi was associated with any illegal activity," the military said, adding that the suspect was captured in a security trailer at al-Dulaimi's home.

After the arrest, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was advised by the U.S. military to shut down the capital and order its 7 million residents to stay at home.

"They have information terrorists entered Baghdad," Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Kaim Khalaf told The Associated Press. "The prime minister agreed to give our security forces the freedom of movement to raid certain places."

The curfew was rare both in its scope and severity, catching many residents of Baghdad by surprise. Many people are fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, eating and drinking only after sunset, and they were caught without supplies and fresh bread _ a Baghdad staple. Most residents did not have a chance to shop on Friday because of a regular, weekly vehicle curfew to prevent attacks against mosques during prayers.

Read the rest at CBS News

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Guard of top Sunni politician said involved in plot that caused Baghdad curfew

Sources: Sadr seeking better control of Mahdi Army, orders followers to lay down arms

A Mahdi Army member in position near the Shrine of Imam Ali

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Muqtada al Sadr, the firebrand Shiite Muslim cleric whose Mahdi Army is arguably Iraq's most powerful armed group, has ordered his followers to put down their weapons temporarily, three of his aides told McClatchy Newspapers on Friday.

Analysts differed on the significance of the directive, which Sadr delivered in secret to his commanders two weeks ago in the southern city of Kufa. Some saw it as Sadr's way of distancing himself from rising sectarian violence, most of which has been blamed on his followers.

Others said the order was little more than an effort by Sadr to head off an offensive by American and Iraqi forces against his militia, which increasingly is seen as a shadow sectarian security force. Controlling many of Iraq's larger cities, the Mahdi Army uses its political hold on several government ministries to win new supporters.

"The American and the Iraqi governments are starting to feel how powerful he is getting. It's obvious that both of them are fed up," said Mithal Alusi, a secular Shiite member of parliament. "That's why the Sadrists are playing a tactical game: to quiet the attacks and buy time."

Whichever view is correct, Sadr's directives suggest that his organization is feeling pressure to curb the violence between Shiites and their Sunni Muslim rivals. U.S. officials have blamed Sadr for much of the killing and have pledged to move against his forces.

Iraqi army troops clashed with Mahdi Army members last month in Diwaniya, and tensions have been rising with U.S. troops, who earlier this month detained Sadr supporters meeting in Najaf. American troops fought pitched battles with Sadr's forces twice in 2004. Both times, Sadr's forces took heavy casualties but the cleric survived, and his militia grew stronger.

Now many think the Mahdi Army controls security in much of Iraq through death squads and its infiltration and intimidation of Iraqi security forces. Sadr's political supporters are influential with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who won his post through the backing of Sadr, who controls the largest voting bloc in the parliament.

Analysts also think that Sadr is having trouble controlling his organization. Some militant members have criticized him for joining the political process last year, accusing him of straying from his pledge to reject the American-created government and rid Iraq of foreign forces. A senior U.S. military official said earlier this week that at least six former Mahdi Army leaders no longer answered to Sadr.

Those leaders now are members of rival groups that are competing for power, popularity and funding from the same sources as Sadr.

"What you do see over time is that you'll see guys, who, for whatever reason, become motivated to become more militant, and the militant elements find the political framework confining," the U.S. military official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because he was giving confidential information. "I'll tell you as time goes on, you're going to continue to see elements break off the organization and become sort of these semi-independent or independent players, but none of them remain independent for long. They all find a sponsor."

Regaining control may be one reason that Sadr issued his four-point mandate orally to his commanders. According to three top Sadr aides, who agreed to discuss the meeting only if they weren't identified because it had been secret, Sadr told the commanders to:

-Reduce the size of units to 75 fighters from as many as 400, to make the units more manageable.

-Issue new identification cards to Mahdi Army members to replace IDs that have been forged.

-Send every member to an orientation course that would outline the group's mission.

-Lay down weapons temporarily.

The last directive is intended to flush out armed groups who say they're part of the Mahdi Army but in fact don't answer to Sadr. No armed operation is to be undertaken, the aides said, without Sadr's permission.

"As long as we don't have orders, we can't do anything. The Mahdi Army will be known as only fighting the Americans," a top Mahdi Army leader in Kufa said Friday.

It remains to be seen whether Sadr's directive will be followed.

Read the rest at the San Jose Mercury News

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Iraqi Police Cited in Abuses May Lose Aid

Iraqi police at checkpoint in Baghdad during Friday's curfew.

BAGHDAD, Sept. 29 — American officials have warned Iraqi leaders that they might have to curtail aid to the Interior Ministry police because of a United States law that prohibits the financing of foreign security forces that commit “gross violations of human rights” and are not brought to justice.

The Interior Ministry, dominated by Shiites, has long been accused by Sunni Arabs of complicity in torture and killings.

The American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said in an interview on Friday that “at this point” Iraq had not been formally notified that its national police were in violation of the legislation, known as the Leahy Law. He said he remained optimistic that Iraqi officials would “do the right thing” and resolve the matter. Nonetheless, he said American officials had begun reviewing programs that might have to be ended.

The issue centers on one of the most sensitive subjects within the Iraqi government: the joint Iraqi-American inspection in May and subsequent investigation of a prison in eastern Baghdad known as Site 4.

Within the prison there was clear evidence of systematic abuse and torture, including victims who had “lesions resulting from torture” as well as “equipment used for this purpose,” according to a human rights report later published by the United Nations mission in Iraq.

The prison, run by an Interior Ministry national police unit, had more than 1,400 prisoners crowded into a small area. An American officer said some had been beaten or bound and hung by their arms. At least 37 teenagers or children were in the prison.

In another sign of Iraq’s security problems, the Iraqi government late on Friday banned all vehicle and pedestrian traffic in Baghdad until Sunday. No reason was given, but the decision followed news that the United States military had arrested an Iraqi employee of a leading Sunni politician on suspicion that he was helping to plan an attack inside the Green Zone.

The controversy over Site 4 has become emblematic of the problem of militia members infiltrating the Interior Ministry’s security forces and fears that Iraqi leaders are unwilling to take action against rogue groups.

A number of high-ranking officials have been implicated, including one division commander, an American official said. According to United Nations officials, as many as 52 arrest warrants have been issued, though none have been carried out. And shortly after the Site 4 inspection, the government stopped allowing joint Iraqi-American prison inspections.

American officials have long warned about the dangers of militia influence, and had hoped the new government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki would crack down on the groups.

Lately, though, senior American military officials have been voicing increasing concerns about the government’s reluctance to take action against militia members. One senior American military official acknowledged last week, “There’s a political piece to this to see if they deal with these guys.”

Read the rest at the NY Times

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Basra governor says Iraq police tried to kill him

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Basra governor says Iraq police tried to kill him

Men hone their skills at the Basra police training unit in Basra, Iraq, on Wednesday. British forces have been training police since last month.

BASRA, Iraq, Sept 30 (Reuters) - The governor of Iraq's second city of Basra accused police officers of trying to kill him on Saturday after he survived an ambush on his motorcade in which three bodyguards were wounded.

"Gunmen in police uniform and others in civilian clothes tried to assassinate me. I know who they are and am going to go after them legally," Mohammed al-Waeli told reporters after the attack.

"They are a group of officers in the Major Crimes Department."

Security has deteriorated in Basra over the past year as rival factions from Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim majority tussle for a share of control over its vast oil resources.

Waeli, who is from the small but influential Fadhila party, fell out openly with the police chief in May, prompting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to impose a state of emergency.

Read the rest at Reuters/Alternet

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U.S. Envoy Says Iraqi Premier Has Short Time to Quell Violence

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, center, is escorted by armed guards soon after insurgents fired a mortar at a U.S. ceremony in November, 2005.

BAGHDAD, Sept. 29 -- The U.S. ambassador to Iraq warned on Friday that time is running out for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to contain the burgeoning sectarian bloodshed that threatens to plunge the country into civil war.

"He has a window of a couple months," said the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad. "If the perception is that this unity government is not able to deal with this issue, then a big opportunity would have been lost and it would take a long time to address this issue."

His remarks, which came during a surge in reprisal killings across Baghdad, reinforced comments by several senior U.S. military officials this week that Maliki's government must move urgently to tackle the militias and death squads wreaking havoc across the country.

Unlike the military commanders, however, Khalilzad said he and President Bush still have full confidence in Maliki and were "cautiously optimistic" that his government has the political will to rein in the bloodletting.

In a wide-ranging 45-minute interview at the ambassador's residence, Khalilzad also acknowledged that the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 was partly responsible for the violence engulfing Iraq, creating a "moral responsibility" for the United States to remain in the country to help solve the Sunni-Shiite bloodletting.

"They need our help," he said. "These circumstances have, in part, to do with the fact that we came in here."

After months of accusing Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq, Khalilzad on Friday also accused Syria of destabilizing the country. He said the Syrian government had harbored insurgents and allowed them to pour across the border into Iraq, adding that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani recently raised concerns with Syrian officials. "It's an issue for both the Iraqis and us to deal with," Khalilzad said.

The ambassador said sectarian violence had replaced the insurgency as the single biggest threat facing Iraq and called on the government to disarm unauthorized militias. He cited two armed groups: the Mahdi Army, controlled by anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and the Badr Organization, run by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a major Shiite party.

"They need to be brought under control," Khalilzad said. "They both need to be brought down."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

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Guard of top Sunni politician said involved in plot that caused Baghdad curfew

Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Iraqi Accord Front -- the largest Sunni Block, with 44 of 275 seats in the Iraqi National Assembly -- was instrumental in encouraging Sunni's to vote in the December, 2005 election. He escaped assassination this March.

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. troops detained a bodyguard for the leader of Iraq's biggest Sunni Arab political group on suspicion the guard was preparing suicide bombings, and fearful officials on Saturday enforced a total ban on movement in this city of about seven million people.

The U.S. command said the man was believed to be a member of al-Qaida in Iraq and was preparing a series of suicide attacks inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the Iraqi government, parliament and the U.S. and other western embassies.

Khudhir Farhan was taken into custody Friday at the home of Adnan al-Dulaimi, the head of the largest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press.

"Credible intelligence indicates the individual, a member of Dr. Dulaimi's personal security detachment, and seven members of the detained individual's cell were in the final stages of launching a series of (car bomb) attacks inside the International Zone, possibly involving suicide vests," the U.S. military said in a statement without identifying the man by name.

He is suspected of having links to a car bomb network operating in the southern area of Baghdad, the military said.

Read the rest at the Washington Post.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Baghdad curfew result of Sunni insurgent suicide bomb threat against green zone

The first attack against the green zone came in 2004, killing at least 20 and injuring 60 more. All of the dead were civilians.

BAGHDAD, Sept. 29 — American forces detained an Iraqi working for one of Iraq’s most prominent Sunni Arab political leaders on Friday on suspicion that the man was helping to plan a multiple-car suicide bombing inside the Green Zone, the military said.

The government declined to give a reason for the curfew and did not say whether it was linked to the detention. Authorities had never before banned walking in Baghdad, and the order may indicate fears that Sunni radicals might respond violently.

The military did not identify the man it detained, but said he had been at a compound near the house of Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Iraqi Consensus Front, the largest bloc of Sunni parties in Iraq, which holds about a sixth of the seats in Parliament.

Mr. Dulaimi confirmed that one of his guards was taken Friday, but he said he did not know the reason.

“Credible intelligence indicates that the individual and seven members of his cell were in the final stages of launching a series of vehicle-borne improvised device attacks inside the international zone, possibly involving suicide vests,” a military spokesman said.

Mr. Dulaimi identified the man as Khodar Farhan Ghargan. He said the raid of his compound was the third by American troops. He denied Iraqi television reports that troops had also found bomb-making equipment.

“They told me that they wanted some information about one of my guys,” Mr. Dulaimi said. “They searched all the bedrooms of the guards. They found nothing.”

Read the rest at the NY Times

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The Green Zone at Wikipedia

U.S.: al-Sadr losing control of Mahdi Army

BAGHDAD, Sept. 27 — The radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has lost control of portions of his Mahdi Army militia that are splintering off into freelance death squads and criminal gangs, a senior coalition intelligence official said Wednesday.

The question of how tightly Mr. Sadr holds the militia, one of the largest armed groups in Iraq, is of critical importance to American and Iraqi officials. Seeking to ease the sectarian violence raging across the country, they have pressed him to join the political process and curb his fighters, who see themselves as defenders of Shiism — and often as agents of vengeance against Sunnis.

But as Mr. Sadr has taken a more active role in the government, as many as a third of his militiamen have grown frustrated with the constraints of compromise and have broken off, often selling their services to the highest bidders, said the official, who spoke to reporters in Baghdad on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak publicly on intelligence issues.

“When Sadr says you can’t do this, for whatever political reason, that’s when they start to go rogue,” the official said. “Frankly, at that point, they start to become very open to alternative sources of sponsorship.” The official said that opened the door to control by Iran.

Mr. Sadr’s militia — dominated by impoverished Shiites who are loosely organized into groups that resemble neighborhood protection forces — has always operated in a grass-roots style but generally tended to heed his commands. It answered his call to battle American forces in two uprisings in 2004, and stopped fighting when he ordered it. But as the violence in Iraq has spread, evidence of freelancing Shiites has accumulated.

After the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February, bands of militants dressed in black, the favorite color of Sadr loyalists, drove into neighborhoods, kidnapping and killing Sunnis. Mr. Sadr, who was abroad at the time, returned home and gave a rare public speech calling on his followers to stop, even proposing joint prayer sessions with Sunni clerics. Still, the rampage continued.

In Basra, a province in southeastern Iraq, Mr. Sadr has less direct control over militiamen, and they have tended to operate to suit their own agenda. Local leaders there have said that he has disciplined some members and fired others, but with little overall effect. He has run through four different leaders in Basra, according to the intelligence official, and has even had to shut offices temporarily, when local leaders ignored him and acted on their own.

Mr. Sadr is still immensely powerful, with as many as 7,000 militiamen in Baghdad, the official said. And the cleric has turned that firepower into political might. His candidate list won about 30 seats in Parliament this year, one of the largest shares. The participation was a central goal for American officials, who tried for months to persuade him to stop fighting and enter politics.

Still, six major leaders here no longer answer to Mr. Sadr’s organization, according to the intelligence official. Most describe themselves as Mahdi Army members, the official said, and even get money from Mr. Sadr’s organization, but “are effectively beyond his control.” Some of those who moved away from Mr. Sadr saw him as too accommodating to the United States. Others saw him as too bound by politics, particularly as killings of Shiite civilians in mixed neighborhoods began to soar.

“They’re not content to sit there and just defend their family on the street corner,” the official said. “They want to go out and take on what they view as Al Qaeda or Baathists or both in aggressive measure.”

One example is Abu Dera, a fighter in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in the capital who used to be loyal to Mr. Sadr. Residents said that as he began to gain a reputation for killing Sunni figures, Mr. Sadr told him to stop. But he ignored the order, and now he is referred to as the “Shiite Zarqawi,” after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist leader who exhorted Sunnis to kill Shiites.

“He started against the Americans, but he moved on to killing Sunnis,” said Sattar Awad, a 29-year-old resident of the district. “People here look at him as a brave man.”

Read the rest at the NY Times

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Analysis: Iraq police college a symbol of failed U.S. plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It was intended to showcase U.S. rebuilding efforts in Iraq, but instead Baghdad's new police academy was declared a health hazard by U.S. inspectors who found human waste dripping from the ceilings.

In a congressional hearing on Thursday, where even the Republican chair said the U.S. rebuilding effort was not a "pretty picture," the Baghdad Police College was held up as an example of how the $21 billion U.S. reconstruction plan for Iraq went wrong.

"Poor security, an arcane, ill-suited management structure and a dizzying cascade of setbacks," said committee chair Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, of the U.S. reconstruction program.

Democrats had much harsher words. "One doesn't know whether to call it the theater of the absurd or the chamber of horrors," Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, told the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform.

The chief U.S. inspector monitoring how U.S. funds are spent in Iraq, Stuart Bowen, recalled his recent visit to the police academy, which cost U.S. taxpayers $75 million, and said he was shocked by the unsanitary conditions there.

Wastewater plumbing installations were faulty and urine and fecal matter oozed through the ceilings, depositing itself in light fittings. In one room there was so much water dripping through that the college director called it a "rain forest."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

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Iraq government declares complete curfew for capital

BAGHDAD, Iraq The government of Iraq declared an immediate complete curfew for the capital city Friday night through Sunday morning, the prime minister's office said.

Haider Majeed, spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said the Cabinet had decided no vehicles or pedestrians would be permitted in Baghdad during that period of time. He refused to say why the curfew was being put in place.

A source at the Interior Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk with the press, said "intelligence information on the security situation made a curfew necessary." He refused further details.

From the International Herald Tribune

Leaked U.K. Defense report mirrors UN, U.S. reports of Iraq as terrorist recruiting tool 'across the Muslim World'

LONDON, Sept. 28 (UPI) -- The Iraq war has "acted as a recruiting sergeant for extremists across the Muslim world," according to a British Ministry of Defense research paper.

The report, drawn up by a Ministry of Defense researcher and leaked to the BBC Thursday, comes at a particularly uncomfortable time for London and Washington amid increasing criticism of their tactics in the "war on terror."

It lends weight to the conclusions of a U.S. intelligence report partially published by the White House Wednesday, which said that the Iraq war had spawned a new generation of global jihadists and become a cause cerebre for would-be terrorists the world over.

President George W. Bush -- who agreed to partial publication after the document was reported by the New York Times Sunday -- has rejected the report's conclusions as "naïve." However, it nevertheless represents a growing conviction among political and intelligence communities on both sides of the Atlantic that the current bullish approach to international terrorism is failing.

The British document also said that Britain had gone into Afghanistan "with its eyes closed," and revealed that a secret agreement to withdraw British troops from Iraq so that they could concentrate on the Afghan mission was thrown out when British military leaders were overruled.

Read the rest at UPI

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Iraqi forces launch crackdown in volatile Diyala province

A car bomb in Diyala province killed 5 soldiers in 2005

BAQUBA, Iraq, Sept 29 (Reuters) - The Iraqi army launched a large operation against insurgents on Friday in Diyala province, a volatile, ethnically-mixed area northeast of the capital that has seen some of the worst violence over recent months.

Iraqi soldiers sealed off streets and were searching houses in al-Gatoon, a restive neighbourhood in the western part of the provincial capital Baquba, said military spokesman Brigadier Qasim al-Moussawi.

He said 60 suspects had been arrested in the sweeps, including one he named as Atta Hadi al-Sadoun, accused of driving Shi'ite families out of a nearby town. So far the operation had been peaceful, with no reported casualties.

U.S. commanders describe Diyala as "the perfect storm" -- an area where Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites all are competing for control of towns and villages. Like the ethnically and religiously mixed capital to the south, it has seen a surge of violence since an attack on a Shi'ite shrine in February.

Read the rest at Reuters/Alternet

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Inspector General: much reconstruction work sub-standard

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 — In a sweeping new assessment of reconstruction failures in Iraq, a federal inspector told Congress on Thursday that 13 of 14 major projects built by the American contractor Parsons that were examined by his agency were substandard, with construction deficiencies and other serious problems.

The final project, a prison near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya, was terminated for other reasons, said the inspector, Stuart Bowen, who heads the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. Delays and cost overruns led to its cancellation.

Whether because the political stakes in Iraq have risen with the approach of the November elections, or simply because of the scope of the problems, Mr. Bowen’s testimony set off outrage on both sides of the political aisle on a topic — reconstruction failures — that previously was mostly in the sights of Congressional Democrats.

“So when they get the construction right, something else goes wrong?” said Representative John M. McHugh, Republican of New York, referring to cost and schedule problems that had plagued many projects.

“Wow — thank you,” Mr. McHugh said, seemingly speechless for a moment after Mr. Bowen answered in the affirmative.

Work by two of the other largest contractors in Iraq — Bechtel and KBR, which was formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root and is a subsidiary of Halliburton — also came in for severe criticism during the lengthy hearing.

Read the rest at the NY Times

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Commander backs Iraqi PM after criticism

General George Casey and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at a ceremony turning over limited control of Iraqi armed forces earlier this month

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq issued an unusual statement declaring support for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Friday, after news media quoted senior U.S. military officials criticizing the government.

As violence in Iraq worsens, military and civilian officials in the U.S.-led Coalition in Iraq have been expressing concern over the past week that Maliki has failed to rein in death squads or stop corruption in his elected, unity government.

"Recent news articles cite unnamed senior military officials as being critical of Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government," the media office of the top commander in Iraq, General George Casey, said in a statement.

"These unattributed comments do not reflect the close partnership between the Government of Iraq and Multi-National Force-Iraq. We fully support the courageous and decisive efforts of the prime minister and the (government)."

It quoted Casey himself calling Maliki "a determined, courageous leader taking on some very difficult issues."

"I do believe he is very much up to the task."

In four briefings over the past week attended by Reuters correspondents in Iraq, no official criticized Maliki personally and all stressed their support and understanding for his stated policy of disarming unofficial armed groups.

However, all also highlighted other problems with the government. One senior U.S. military official said "in every single ministry" officials were siphoning state funds to "fill the coffers of the political parties."

Another senior U.S. military official said elements in the Interior Ministry, responsible for the police, were still cooperating with Shi'ite sectarian death squads.

In both those cases, groups of journalists were invited to briefings by the U.S. military, which stipulated in advance the condition that the senior officials not be named.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

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U.S. Commander: Anbar insurgency in place until U.S. departs

Insurgents in Ramadi, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The insurgency in Iraq's volatile western Anbar province can be beaten but probably not until after U.S. troops leave the country, the commander of forces in the provincial capital said Friday.

"An insurgency is a very difficult thing to defeat in a finite period of time. It takes a lot of persistence -- perseverance is the actual term that we like to use," Army Col. Sean B. MacFarland, commander of 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, said in a video-teleconference with reporters at the Pentagon.

"Who knows how long this is going to actually last?" he added. "But if we get the level of violence down to a point where the Iraqi security forces are more than capable of dealing with it, the insurgency's days will eventually come to an end. And they will come to an end at the hands of the Iraqis, who, by definition, will always be perceived as more legitimate than an external force like our own."

He did not say pointblank that the insurgency could be defeated only if U.S. forces left, but he indicated that his brigade's mission is to reduce violence until Iraqi security forces can take over -- not to outright defeat the insurgency.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

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6-month, $70 billion funding bill blocks U.S. permanent bases, control of oil

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress on Friday moved to block the Bush administration from building permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq or controlling the country's oil sector, as it approved $70 billion for funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The restrictions included in a record $447 billion military funding bill were a slap at the administration, and Republicans have stripped them out of legislation in the past.

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Jared Raymond honored, laid to rest

Hundreds filled St. John the Evangelist Church and thousands lined Swampscott streets and the town cemetery Thursday, Sept. 28, to say good-bye to U.S. Army Spc. Jared John Raymond, killed in the line of duty Sept. 19 in Balad, Iraq, when the tank he was driving struck an explosive.

Speakers at Raymond’s full military funeral reminded the congregation that “Jared was a hero” and told his grandmother her grandson was “everything a Catholic Christian is meant to be.”

Raymond’s fellow Swampscott High School students, past and present — he joined the Army a week after graduation in June 2004 — choked back tears several times during the funeral. Raymond had vowed soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America that he must do something for his country. Not even his love for fast cars could deter him from his mission, they added.

As Raymond’s casket lay on the very spot where he was baptized 20 years earlier, several priests commended his spirit to God and promised, “We need not be afraid. God will take care of Jared and God will take care of us.” A Swampscott native, Raymond lived all his life in the town, taking part in youth baseball and basketball in younger years

Jimmy Raymond of Lexington, a cousin of the deceased soldier, recalled his days driving around town with Jared in their Firebirds, adding they had been “brothers, in craziness and a lot of stupidity.” Jared’s uncle, James Raymond, remembered seeing Jared for the first time and called him “a cornerstone of our family.”

The uncle remembered the day Army officers came to take Jared Raymond to boot camp at Fort Knox in Kentucky.

“He said ‘let’s do it,’ blew a kiss to his mom and they were off,” James Raymond said. From Iraq, Jared called his mom twice a week and his uncle once a month, he said.

“America called and Spc. Jared John Raymond answered,” his uncle concluded.

After the Mass, Raymond was posthumously awarded the Good Conduct Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

Bishop Francis Irwin recalled the words of Mother Teresa, “God doesn’t call us to success; He calls us to faithfulness,” and said Jared Raymond’s life was a success because of his faithfulness to his family, his church and his nation.

Jared Raymond’s body was carried from the church to the cemetery by a horse-drawn caisson with full military honors as representatives of area and state police, firefighters, veterans groups and active duty officers joined hundreds of townspeople in the long walk to his final resting place.

Respectful silence for 10, perhaps even 15, minutes filled Humphrey Street before the procession began and before the graveside service as well. Not even small children spoke, apparently aware of the special moment they were seeing.

Raymond had been assigned to the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

From the Swampscott Reporter

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Russell Makowski laid to rest

(KSDK) - Family, friends and colleagues gathered Wednesday at a south St. Louis County funeral home to bid farewell to a Union, Mo., soldier who was killed in Iraq.

Army Corporal Russell Makowski was killed two weeks ago. Makowski served with the 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. He was a member of the cannon crew.

With the sorrowful sound of "Amazing Grace" in the background, Makowski's loved ones prepared to travel from Kutis Funeral Home to his final resting place at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

The Patriot Guard, an organization of veterans and non-veterans, came from several states including Missouri, to honor a man that most of them did not know.

Monty Schrunk is a Guard member from the St. Louis area.

"We're here today to honor Corporal Makowski and to show honor for his family and the sacrifice that they made for our country," said Schrunk.

Makowski grew up in St. Charles but had lived in Union for several years. He graduated from Union High School in 2002 and joined the Army in November 2004.

Relatives say he loved being a soldier and loved being in the Army.

Makowski had several military awards and decorations including the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.

He is survived by his parents, Pamela and Mark, and a brother, Matthew.

From KDSK 5

David W. Gordon remembered, laid to rest

TITUSVILLE-Funeral services with full military honors were conducted Friday morning for a soldier with familial ties to the Oil City area who was killed while on duty in Iraq.

Sgt. David W. Gordon, 23, of Williamsfield, Ohio, and Fort Hood, Texas, died after an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee during combat operations in Baghdad on Sept. 8.

Following the funeral, Sgt. Gordon was laid to rest in Grove Hill Cemetery, the same burial grounds as his maternal grandparents, Billie J. Cook and Shirley Kitelinger Cook. Mr. Cook was born in Pleasantville and grew up in Titusville, later moving to Oil City. At the time of his death in 1995, he lived at Spartansburg RD 2. Mrs. Cook, also a local native, died in 1990.

Although members of Sgt. Gordon's family were from the local area, he grew up in Ohio, the son of Rodney W. Gordon and Judy L. (Cook) Gordon.

He was married Aug. 9, 2005, to Kimber Zaun. In addition to his wife, he is survived by two stepsons; his mother and stepfather, Judy L. Gordon and Robert M. Fink Sr. of Williamsfield, Ohio; and his father and stepmother, Rodney W. Gordon and Cindy Taylor of Corry.

Viewing was held Wednesday evening in Andover, Ohio. His body was then escorted to Titusville by a brigade of Patriot Guard Riders-motorcycle aficionados, most of whom are military veterans, that attend funerals at the request of the family. Sgt. Gordon's grandfather, Howard Gordon, a member of the group, led the escort to the Garrett Funeral Home in Titusville where viewing was conducted Thursday evening.

A crisp fall day dawned on Friday as the family and friends of Sgt. Gordon gathered at the First Presbyterian Church to pay their last respects.

The sounds of a fall breeze rustling through the leaves of mature trees along North Franklin Street were the only interruption as the body of Sgt. Gordon was transferred into the church.

Military honor guard, trained pallbearers from the 99th Regiment Readiness Unit in Pittsburgh, lifted the casket from the hearse as a gauntlet of members from the Titusville VFW 5958 and auxiliary lined the entryway to the church.

Inside, a crowd of nearly 100 assembled for a final farewell to the 23-year-old man they knew as a father, a son, a friend and a devout Christian.

"We met at the church a few years ago before he went back to Iraq. He was a person of faith and we are fortunate to know today he is in heaven," said Tim Haidon of Kinsman, Ohio.

"It gives us peace, but we have lost a wonderful person. ... He was a normal kid. He was just a kid," said Tambra Haidon, also of Ohio.

The Haidon family wanted to support the family in their time of sorrow, but also said they wished to show support for the sacrifices of military families.

"It doesn't matter if you believe in the cause or not, it's still someone's baby that dies," said Tambra Haidon.

Lt. Col. Kenneth Schmidt, chaplain, officiated at the ceremony. Sgt. Gordon's wife, mother and father were the recipients of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals accorded to the deceased.

About 70 members of he Patriot Guard Riders, led by former Oil City resident Frank Dinger, now of Erie, stood holding flags as pallbearers returned the casket to the vehicle prior to departure for the cemetery in Oil City.

The PGR escorted the body to the Grove Hill Cemetery in Oil City where full military honors were also accorded.

Sgt. Gordon had been assigned to the Army's 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, at Fort Hood. He was serving with a U.S. Army field artillery unit in Iraq at the time of his death.

From the Derrick

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Gabriel DeRoo remembered, laid to rest

KALAMAZOO - Several hundred people came together last Saturday at Calvary Bible Church in Kalamazoo to pay tribute to a Paw Paw native soldier killed in action in Iraq Aug. 20.

Sgt. Gabriel DeRoo was remembered by his wife, Hannah, as a "man of conviction," as he grew in his faith with God.

"From the time that I first met him when he came to Washington, to the time that he died, he grew so much as a person. He grew so much as a Christian man, becoming a Godly man....I feel so blessed that I got to spend that time with him. He really developed as a man of conviction," she said.

"He touched everyone," said Hannah. "There were women that would come to me and say, 'I wish my husband was like yours.'"

"Gabriel cared about guys. He wanted to be a good example. He looked forward to his family, the soldiers that he worked with, guys in his unit," said Hannah.

She added, "Even in his death, he wanted God to be glorified."

Hannah said, "We really trusted God. It brought so much peace into our hearts."

She recalled him saying, ''If something happens, just remember, God is still in control.''

Hannah said, "When the chaplains came to my door, I knew right away that God was still in control, and knew Gabe was gone."

She added, "I know He's (God) still in control now. I know He'll do great things if we trust him," she added.

"Everyone got along with Gabe.....I know his life has touched a lot of lives. I know that is exactly what he would want. That's what he would want for the guys back in Iraq, too. He would want them to come and know Christ," she said.

Sgt. DeRoo's sister, Chastity, said her brother had a positive attitude and was not a complainer.

"I never heard him complain about anything. He always had a way of saying there was something good in everything that had to be done."

She added, "He made me so proud of him."

DeRoo's mother, Laura, spoke of her son with pride. "Gabriel accomplished so much in such a short time he was here on earth," she said.

She added, "Gabriel had a vision for what he wanted out of a military career. He developed a plan to reach his goal by a certain time, and then worked hard until that goal became a reality."

His father, David, expressed thanks to everyone who had sent food, flowers, cards, phone calls and prayers. "We thank you."

DeRoo held up a Christmas card from his son that was given to him in 2004. A note in it read, "I couldn't ask for a better pop. The card reminds me of you and me when you forced me to work with you...I love you, dad."

David's remark brought a chuckle from those attending the service.

Prior to the start of the memorial service, Patriot Guard Riders lined the entrance to the church, located on Drake Road, with 138 people, many carrying U.S. flags, and had traveled from across the state and Indiana, according to Zach Chandler, assistant state captain.

Read the rest at the Courier Leader

Eric Kavanagh honored, laid to rest

He loved music and playing the guitar, but military service is where Eric Matthew Kavanagh found his calling, family and friends said.

"Behind that happy, huggy, gentle guitar player, there was grit and determination," said the Rev. Dr. W. Terry Schoener of Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park. Mr. Schoener recalled how, even before he went to basic training, he started running and working out, readying himself for boot camp.

Wednesday, friends, family and neighbors mourned the loss of the 20-year-old Army private and Severna Park native who was killed in Baghdad last week.

According to the Defense Department, Private Kavanagh died Sept. 20 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his purpose vehicle during combat operations. He was the fourth member of the military from Maryland to be killed in Iraq over the past two weeks.

During a short but somber service Wednesday at Woods Memorial, Private Kavanagh's uncle read a letter written by his father, Kevin Kavanagh, who called his son a "gentle soul."

He "always had a smile on his face, a smile so strong it beamed with love, enthusiasm and compassion," the letter said. "My son Eric is a hero, but to each of us, he is so much more. He joined the Army an enthusiastic boy and became a confident man."

Private Kavanagh attended Folger McKinsey Elementary School, Severna Park Middle School and Chesapeake High School.

"He wasn't exactly the school-type," said Jessica Studnicky, 20, a former neighbor and friend. "But he was very clever and quick-witted."

"He was a dreamer," added Rich Chrisman, who knew Private Kavanagh in elementary and middle school.

Ms. Studnicky said she heard about Private Kavanagh's death Sunday, then went online to find former classmates, who reunited Wednesday at the service.

Ms. Studnicky and her mother, Michelle Studnicky, recalled when Private Kavanagh came over and helped them remove a three-inch blanket of leaves from their yard as they prepared for Halloween.

"He was just that kind of guy," Michelle Studnicky said.

Several of Private Kavanagh's friends said they lost touch with him after middle school. He worked at the Maryland Pennysaver for a while, but wasn't satisfied with working 9 to 5. He obtained his GED, then enlisted, serving in the Army's 26th Infantry of the 1st Division Blue Spaders.

Jessica Studnicky said the last time she saw Private Kavanagh, he still had long hair. It was two years ago, and he had ridden his bike to her house to tell her that he'd just enlisted.

"It wasn't fair," she said Wednesday of his death.

Read the rest at the Baltimore Sun

Services for Eric Kavanagh

Two pictures came up on the screen inside Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park yesterday morning. One showed a picture of Pvt. Eric Matthew Kavanagh in uniform, a member of the 26th Infantry of the First Division Blue Spaders. The other showed him in similar garb, but as an elementary school-aged child.

Then Pvt. Kavanagh's photo came up on the screen again, but this time with long hair and a wide smile as he sat on a motorcycle. That was followed by one of him with a shaved head playing a sunburst Stratocaster-style guitar.

A number of other photographs showed him posing with family members, or candid shots of him making silly faces or showed him proudly smiling as he stood in uniform.

Family and friends said goodbye to the 20-year-old Severna Park man, a week after he was killed by an improvised explosive device in Baghdad.

The photo compilation, set to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man" was put together by Pvt. Kavanagh's younger brother Patrick.

After a final few seconds of a video of Pvt. Kavanagh playing guitar, a dedication came across the screen.

"Eric you are a true hero and will not be forgotten," it said.

More than 250 people attended the funeral service. But Pvt. Kavanagh's immediate family clung to each other as they followed the casket, draped with an American flag, inside the crowded church.

"Behind that gentle happy, huggy guitar player there was grit and determination," the Rev. W. Terry Schoener said during the service.

Pvt. Kavanagh, who grew up attending Folger McKinsey Elementary and Severna Park Middle School, left Chesapeake High School and knew he wanted to go into the armed forces.

"Here's where the hand of God and the inner strength of Eric united," the Rev. Schoener said. "He was sensing a calling."

Pvt. Kavanagh's father, Kevin, wrote a letter about his son that Mr. Kavanagh's brother-in-law, Forrest Mays, read in church.

"My son Eric is a gentle soul, always with a smile on his face - a smile that beamed with love, enthusiasm and compassion," Mr. Mays read.

Mr. Kavanagh wrote that his son wasn't satisfied with the 9 to 5 world and that he wanted to do something important and make a difference.

Mr. Mays said Mr. Kavanagh wrote the letter the night before.

"His sacrifice brought together a family in need of healing. Yes, my son is a hero, but to each of us he's so much more," Mr. Mays said.

He talked about Eric's love in talking with his brother and younger sister, Alanna.

Mr. Kavanagh is also survived by his mother, Rhonda Kavanagh of Glen Burnie, and his grandparents, Shirley Kerns of Glen Burnie and Keith Morris of Stockbridge, Ga.

Mr. Mays said the family wanted those who knew Pvt. Kavanagh to share their stories with them as the days pass.

The Rev. Schoener reminded Pvt. Kavanagh's siblings to remember their brother at holidays and share stories about him.

"Eric is a gentle soul," Mr. Mays finished reading from the letter. "Eric is a gentle soul."

Mr. Mays then presented the family with a plaque that read "There is nothing so strong as gentleness and nothing so gentle as real strength."

Family and friends later spilled into the hallway from a reception room at Arlington National Cemetery as Pvt. Kavanagh was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his sacrifice in the war on terror in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As the procession left for the grave site, a couple of cars had yellow ribbons attached as they went through the winding hills of the cemetery.

There was also a private celebration of Pvt. Kavanagh's life at the Knights of Columbus Columbian Center in Severna Park last night.

"He was serving for the sake of his family and for the sake of all of us - the nation," the Rev. Schoener said during the memorial service.

Read the rest at the Annapolis Capital

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Emily Perez honored, laid to rest

WEST POINT, N.Y. — They remember Emily Perez in her many bursts of motion: the diminutive young woman calling out orders to the freshman cadets on the castled military campus of West Point.

They see her sprinting the third leg for Army's 400-meter relay team. Or in the school's gospel choir, filling her lungs and opening her mouth to sing.

Emily J.T. Perez, a determined 23-year-old from Prince George's County, Md., rose to the top of her high school class and then became the first minority female command sergeant in the history of the U.S. Military Academy.

Now she has another distinction. The second lieutenant was buried Tuesday at the academy, the first female graduate of West Point to die in Iraq. Perez, a platoon leader, was killed while patrolling southern Iraq near Najaf on Sept. 12 when a roadside bomb exploded under her Humvee.

And at the service on the high bluffs along the Hudson River, her former fellow cadets, the younger women who looked up to Perez and now are preparing to follow her path, were still learning from her.

"The fact that she's died — it makes what's going on in the Middle (East) ... so much more real. I mean, here at West Point, it's kind of like Camelot, you know — everything just seems to work," Sylvia Amegashie, 21, of Woodbridge, Va., co-captain of West Point's track team, said as she stood on the cemetery grass, holding back tears. "What happened to her, being out there in Iraq, it's real. Her death really makes everything seem more like it's going to happen."

"For me, yeah, like, it's just an eye-opener," agreed Meghan Venable-Thomas, 21, a senior who also ran track and sang in the choir with Perez, who graduated last year. "She was like a little Superwoman ... so full of energy and life, and she was just willing to do anything."

Perez was born into a military family in Heidelberg, Germany, and moved to Fort Washington, Md., in 1998. A woman repeatedly described as focused, tenacious and passionate, she was an avid reader from a young age and eventually finished near the top of her class at Oxon Hill High School. From early on, she wanted to be a soldier, her friends recalled, and she became wing commander of Junior ROTC at Oxon Hill.

"She was the cream of the crop," said Nathaniel Laney, Perez's high school track coach and now assistant principal at Oxon Hill. "This wasn't some average Joe."

Her nickname was Kobe, family friend E. Faith Bell said, because everyone knew she could make the shots, in whatever she did.

While in high school, working with Washington's Peace Baptist Church, Perez helped begin an HIV-AIDS ministry after family members contracted the virus.

One of her mentors, Roger Pollard, who worked with her when she volunteered with the Alexandria, Va., American Red Cross HIV-AIDS peer education program, recalled her remarkable ability to stay focused — always on time, always ready to work. She shared with other teen-agers her stories about people close to her living with the depression and stigma of AIDS.

"She was sensitive to the suffering of others" but tough-minded, Pollard said. "I clearly remember thinking that she would definitely be the first female president of this country."

After graduating from West Point, she was assigned to the Army's 204th Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division and deployed to Iraq in December. Before she left, she spoke with Laney, her high school track coach. He gave her a journal to write everything down when she wanted to clear her head.

"She was like, 'I'll be OK. Don't worry about me.' That was just the confidence she had in herself," he said.

Her godfather, the pastor of Peace Baptist Church, remembered that same time in Perez's life.

"She was resilient. Her spirit was calm. She was resolute. She believed ... the real tragedy is to not live while you are alive," said the Rev. Michael Bell, Faith Bell's husband.

She was the 64th female member of the U.S. military to be killed in Iraq or Afghanistan and the 40th West Point graduate killed since Sept. 11, 2001. Another female West Point graduate, Laura Walker of the Class of 2003, was killed in Afghanistan last year.

Her family chose to hold the funeral at West Point because of Perez's reverence for the institution that challenged her physically and mentally, Michael Bell said.

At the cemetery, in a quiet corner of campus beneath Storm King Mountain, the warm September sun glinted off the silver tubas of the marching band and lighted the rustling leaves' various shades of flame.

Dozens of uniformed men and women gathered in the crowd: West Point's track team, its gospel choir, former classmates and fellow soldiers. When the hearse pulled up to Perez's grave site — in Section 36, near those of several other young graduates — the crowd saluted the flag-draped coffin in near perfect unison.

The family, including parents Vicki and Daniel Perez, sat on 10 folding chairs under a small tent facing the coffin, daubing their eyes.

"Honor guard! Attention!"

The guard assembled around the coffin.

"Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there, I do not sleep," Michael Bell read from a poem. "I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glint of snow. I am the sunlight on ripened grain. I am the gentle autumn rain."

Then West Point Chaplain Darrell Thomsen addressed Perez.

"In your short time here, you stood the watch with duty, with honor," he said. "Your work on earth is done."

Five guns fired in unison three times. The bugler and the drummer played taps. The bagpiper played "Amazing Grace." The marching band finished with the "Alma Mater."

After it was over, Faith Bell reflected on what Perez will be remembered for.

"Her tenacity," Bell said. "Her passion for life. One of the things that was important to Emily was not the fear of death but the fear of not living."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Related Link:
Emily Perez, 23, leapt high in life cut short by war

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Medic and Fireman David 'Joey' Davis honored, laid to rest

The honor guard carried Sgt. David "Joey" Davis' flag-draped casket out of the church Thursday and hoisted it onto the back of an antique fire engine. It seemed a fitting way for the fun-loving volunteer firefighter and combat medic to go out -- second, perhaps, only to the back of a pick-up truck.

Thursday, relatives and friends laid to rest the 32-year-old Lisbon native, who died Sept. 17 after a homemade bomb exploded next to his armored vehicle as his unit conducted an operation in a teeming, violent Baghdad neighborhood.

During the funeral, the U.S. Army honored Sergeant Davis with the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. His job was to care for injured soldiers, and before his deployment, he spent more than a decade with the Lisbon Volunteer Fire Company.

"He liked being a hero," his sister-in-law, Mrs. Peggy Cantler-Davis, said.

As a long line of Lisbon's yellow fire engines pulled out of the Lisbon United Methodist Church, some of the town's residents lined the funeral route holding American flags.

During Sergeant Davis' deployment, the town's post office had set off an area for him, accepting donations for packages from home and directions on how to write to him, according to the volunteer company.

Members of the company stood in formation behind the police department's honor guard, many crying as his coffin was carried from the church.

Sergeant Davis' brother, Mr. James "Andy" Davis, who is a firefighter, said that his younger brother was his best friend and always a little "wild and crazy."

He described when, as children, they tried to ride a pony without a bridle or saddle. The pony threw both of them off.

Mr. Davis said that his brother "wrecked every truck he drove" and that he was a "cowboy," who danced and who sang "louder than the radio."

Read the rest at the Baltimore Sun

Lisbon Mourns Death of Local Soldier

In the small town of Lisbon, the post office runs its flag at half-mast, with a wreath decorating the pole. The volunteer fire station and its yellow trucks are draped in black ribbons. Its roadside sign now reads, “In memory of Sgt. Joey Davis, U.S. Army, 1973-2006.”

Residents of the tight-knit community are mourning the death of Sgt. David “Joey” Davis, who was killed on Sept. 17 by a bomb that exploded next to his vehicle outside Baghdad, shortly after he was originally scheduled to come home.

Davis, 32, was stationed in Alaska with the U.S. Army’s Fourth Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

The team was deployed to Iraq in August 2005, and Davis was set to return on July 31 before being re-directed again to Baghdad.

A resident of Mt. Airy (Howard County), Davis was married to Roberta Davis of Fairbanks, Alaska, and has three children.

After graduating from Glenelg High School in 1991, he worked with the Lisbon fire company as a firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician.

Norman Snyder, vice president of the fire company, said his co-workers’ first reaction was shock, and no one slept the night they learned of his death.

“He had the aspiration to be a professional firefighter,” Snyder said of Davis, noting that his mother was also in the Ladies’ Auxiliary and his brother is a firefighter in Frederick. “He was extremely active until he joined the Army.”

Snyder described Davis as fun to have around, adding he can still picture him in his cowboy hat and boots.

“Joey was best-known for his reliability. He would be there whenever he was needed,” he said. “He was a good-natured boy, he liked to have fun.”

When Davis’ body returned, the fire company arranged to have it pass the station.

“We stood in full… gear and saluted as the hearse passed by,” Snyder said.

Read the rest at the View

Medic died after tour extended

In late July -- less than a week before he was to return home from Iraq -- Army combat medic Sgt. David J. "Joey" Davis of Lisbon learned that his one-year tour of duty had been extended until after Thanksgiving, perhaps until February.

Military commanders had selected the sergeant's heavily armored brigade for a critical crackdown on Shiite militiamen in the epicenter of Baghdad's sectarian violence: the dangerous, 2 million-person slum of Sadr City.

It was there Sunday that a homemade bomb detonated near Sergeant Davis' eight-wheel, 19-ton Stryker Armored Vehicle, killing the 32-year-old and injuring two other soldiers, one severely.

"He was mad, very disappointed that he couldn't come home," his older brother, James "Andy" Davis, said yesterday. "But he knew they had a job to do. He wanted to stay with the guys he had been with. They needed him if they got hurt."

The last-minute extension of duty took members of the Alaska-based 172nd Stryker Brigade by surprise.

Sergeant Davis, who married his second wife, Roberta, in Alaska last year, delivered the news in a phone call home to his mother.

She relayed the news to the nearby Lisbon Volunteer Fire Station, where Sergeant Davis began working after graduating from Glenelg High School in 1991.

Yesterday, members of the Lisbon fire company remembered him as an eager volunteer, among the first to arrive in his pickup truck whenever the station's siren would sound.

"He wanted to get into the military because he wanted to be a career firefighter," said Capt. Jim Baker, who had been sitting down at the station's computer to send his friend an e-mail when a fellow volunteer broke the news of Sergeant Davis' death.

"The fire service looks at the military as something good and could be a deciding factor in getting a job," said Captain Baker. "It's good training."

He said that when Sergeant Davis was just 18 years old, he took him under his wing as a new volunteer, getting him accustomed to the firehouse.

At that time, Sergeant Davis' life centered around "the firehouse, girls, like all 18-year-old boys, and he was big into rodeos," Captain Baker said.

"He mostly watched [rodeo]. I think he rode a few times and got knocked around," Captain Baker recalled.

Captain Baker and Andy Davis described Sergeant Davis as a "country boy." He loved country music and trucks and was most at home in a cowboy hat, boots and jeans, they said.

Before joining the Army, he worked on his brother's cattle farm in Emmitsburg, did construction work and drove tractor-trailers.

As a "thunderhorse," or dismount medic in Iraq, Sergeant Davis cared for injured soldiers on the scene of any medical emergency.

"That EMT training he used in the Army, he first received as a volunteer firefighter," his brother said.

He said his younger brother rarely spoke about the stress of battle.

The soldier's e-mail correspondence mostly centered on packages bringing the comforts of home that would make what he planned to be his final year in the Army more tolerable.

From an October 2005 message: "It's 120 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night. Thanks for the package. My buddy Ray-Ray gave me some ideas for care packages. I'd like to have some handy snacks, cheese and crackers, Strawberry Twizzlers, gummy bears, Ding Dongs, May Day candy bars, Chex Mix, Planters peanuts and also some more baby wipes."

Sergeant Davis used the wipes to clean the sweat and sand off his large, black protective goggles.

Read the rest at the Baltimore Sun

Related Link:
David J. Davis remembered; died just weeks after Iraq tour extended