Sunday, May 06, 2007

Colby J. Umbrell dies of injuries from I.E.D.

First Lt. Colby J. Umbrell considered himself more than an Army paratrooper who hunted down ''bad guys'' during his service in Iraq. He wanted to be a diplomat.

Driven to improve poor conditions inside Iraqi schools, the 26-year-old Doylestown Township man this year enlisted school students back home in Bucks County to collect pencils and paper for their counterparts overseas.

Less than two months after returning to Iraq with five boxes of those supplies, Umbrell was killed Thursday when a roadside bomb went off near his patrol vehicle in Musayyib, the Defense Department said.

Two other paratroopers were hurt, but not seriously. Umbrell's parents, Mark and Nancy, were told their son died instantly.

The death of Umbrell, a member of the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based in Fort Richardson, Alaska, was another blow to a community still reeling from a local Marine's death in Iraq earlier this week.

First Lt. Travis L. Manion, also 26 and from Doylestown Township, was killed Sunday during combat operations in Al Anbar province. He was with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Umbrell's parents don't believe their son knew Manion.

''It's hard,'' Nancy Umbrell said, fighting back tears during an interview Friday in her home. ''He was very happy to be serving in the military. Before he went, he felt like he was putting democracy in the Middle East. If he didn't see the end result of it, he was part of something important.''

Mark Umbrell said his son ''just always liked to help. He sees people that need assistance and he was a go-getter. Everything in his life, he would go a step further.''

They described their son as a ''real popular cut-up'' who would ''always do quirky things to make you laugh.'' He was a brave and daring person, the type who would jump out of airplanes. He had wanted to join the military since he was in middle school.

He signed up with the Army in 2004, and part of his job was to ''talk to [Iraqis] and find the bad guys,'' his father said. ''One of the big problems was you didn't know who the good guys and bad guys were.''

Umbrell, who will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, visited Lenape Middle School in Doylestown in late March to speak to students and collect boxes of pencils and lined paper. His parents said he also planned to raise money to improve wiring at Iraqi schools that have spotty electrical service.

''It had nothing to do with his military mission,'' said Ann Kuntzmann, a guidance counselor at Lenape. ''It was his way of showing the Iraqis a positive side of the American people. I can't say I was surprised. I remember him as a caring, community-minded kind of person.''

Kuntzmann said Umbrell was ''very diplomatic'' about the situation in Iraq when speaking to the students. ''He said he believed in what he was doing,'' she said. ''He believed that the rest of the world should have the freedoms that we have here.''

From the Bucks Morning Call