Sunday, June 10, 2007

Matthew Soper dies 'of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device'

Shortly after Shirley Soper received news her son had been killed in Iraq, a military representative asked what could be done to make things better.

Sgt. Matthew Soper's mother had only one request Wednesday: "Bring Derek Eisele home."

Eisele had been Matthew Soper's closest friend since their days at Jackson Catholic Middle School.

Eisele, too, is fighting in Iraq, where he and Soper were sent in June 2006 as part of the Michigan Army National Guard 1461st Transportation Company, based in Jackson. It was their second Iraq tour together.

Eisele, a sergeant, is having to deal with the death of his compadre without the comfort of his friends and family who have been gathering and grieving since they received word this week Soper was killed.

Soper died Wednesday when an improvised explosive device hit his patrol vehicle.

"They were together 24/7," said Eisele's mother, Mickey Eisele of Jackson. They always had each other's backs, she said, damp-eyed after a short conversation with her son, who was delivered the dreaded news at 3 a.m. Thursday. On the phone, he was sobbing, she said.

About 60 days ago, Eisele, 24, and Soper, 26, went on separate missions for the first time, and Eisele was not with Soper at the time of his death.

"(Derek) is not good, not good at all," MickeyEisele said.

The family is working with the military to see if he can come back to Michigan for the funeral. They want him in Jackson, Soper's father, Warner, said.

"Derek is part of the family," said Soper's brother-in-law, Jay Ciokajlo. "He needs to be here. Matt would have wanted it."

It would mean "the world" to Soper for Eisele to be home, said the pair's "third amigo," Andrew "A.J." Curtis, 25, of Jackson. Curtis and Eisele have been friends since the fifth or sixth grade. Soper and Curtis have been lifelong pals. "Pretty much, we were brothers. No doubt about it," Curtis said, taking long pauses to control his emotions.

For Eisele and Soper, the brotherly bond grew stronger as they both stepped into camouflage.

"You can't go to sleep in tents with bombs going off and not get closer when you are already best friends," said Mickey Eisele, standing outside the Soper house, crowded Thursday with sisters, brothers, nieces and neighbors.

Soper and Eisele were friends throughout their years at Lumen Christi High School, joined the National Guard together and accompanied each other on every mission during their first tour in Iraq with the National Guard 1462nd Transportation Company, based in Howell.

"They finished each other's sentences," Mickey Eisele said.

Outside of uniform, the two -- often joined by Curtis -- did things a lot of guys in their 20s do.

"Maybe it's our personalities. We just had a good time together," Curtis said.

They dated women, played pool, went to the lake and partied -- but never at the expense of their families.

"They didn't shirk family time," Ciokajlo said.

The Soper and Eisele families are close, Mickey Eisele said.

With their sons at war, they've become closer, worrying in groups, said Eisele, who called Soper her "second son."

She had planned to have a pig roast, celebrating Derek Eisele and Soper's scheduled return in August -- much like the raucous party organized upon the pair's 2005 homecoming.

They'll still have the party, but it won't be the same, Mickey Eisele said.

"It was supposed to be for the two of them."

From the Citizen Patriot