Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Kamisha J. Block dies 'of injuries suffered from a non-combat related incident'

The body of U.S. Army Spc. Kamisha Block, 20, is expected to arrive in Southeast Texas on Tuesday.

Block, a Vidor native, was killed in Iraq Thursday.

"She was shot in the chest by friendly fire," Block's aunt Kathy Byerley said. "They haven't told us anything else - the rest is under investigation. We just want to know the truth about it."

The U.S. Defense Department has confirmed two fatalities on Aug. 12 by friendly fire, but has not officially released names or the cause of death.

Her body is expected to arrive at Southeast Regional Airport on Tuesday at about 11 a.m., said Byerley, who was known as "Aunt Kassy" to the 2005 Vidor High School graduate.

The family is finalizing funeral plans today, Block's uncle John Stuckey said.

Arrangements are being made through Memorial Funeral Home at 1750 Texas 12, and Block's viewing will be held at Eastgate United Pentecostal church, Stuckey said.

Block, the first Southeast Texas woman killed in Iraq, was described an outgoing person who always wanted to help.

In 2001, Block, 13 at the time, was featured in an Enterprise article about teenagers who volunteered to play trauma victims in a mass-casualty preparedness drill in Orange County.

"She loved people," Stuckey said. "She was out to help people with whatever she could."

Block, who served as a military police officer, had plans to pursue a career in law enforcement, her aunt and uncle said.

From the Beaumont Enterprise

VIDOR - When U.S. Army Spc. Kamisha Block returned from Iraq next month, she and her lifelong friend Amanda Buck planned to get matching tattoos.

They were going to be yellow butterflies - a symbol of Block's military service - on the center of their upper backs, Buck said.

"Every time I see my wings, I was going to think of her, and every time she saw her wings, she was going to think of me," Buck said. "We had each other's back."

Instead, Block, 20, died Thursday during a non-hostile incident north of Baghdad, Iraq, that still is under investigation.

But it was no "coinky-dink" that Buck and Block's sister, Shonta, counted dozens of small, yellow butterflies fluttering in front of their truck while driving around town since then, including the two that floated nearby while the women painted a tribute to Kamisha on the windows of the Waffle House where she and Buck worked during high school.

It also was no coincidence that their truck's radio kept switching to Kamisha Block's favorite rock and heavy metal stations all day Monday, the two said.

They are convinced the occurrences are ways Block reaches out to them.

"I hate to feel like this, but I knew she wasn't coming home," Buck said while sipping coffee Monday afternoon at Waffle House. "I didn't think it would be so soon, but I knew she wasn't coming home."

Vidor's Waffle House was a fixture in Kamisha Block's life before she joined the military to "see the world," friends said.

Since word of Block's death arrived Friday, the restaurant has become an emotional gathering place for the regular customers, family and friends, giving them a place to remember the fallen soldier.

"Not a customer that ever walked through this door ever saw her with a frown," Arnette Buck, Block's former coworker and Amanda Buck's mother, said through emerging tears during a work break Monday.

Waffle House is where Block and friends gathered to plan their outings or chat over a cup of coffee before she left for the military and during her leaves.

"We were supposed to be the old hags that come and drink coffee and (gripe) about young people," Buck joked of the future they planned.

It's where Block asked Debbie Strother - who watched her evolve from a playful little girl into a working teen and soldier - to pray for her before she left for Iraq.

It's where loyal customer Glen Payne said he advised Block to become a military policewoman to train for civilian law enforcement.

"I'm so proud of that girl," Payne said. "It's just sad that I'm not going to look up and see her anymore."

That Waffle House was where many in this city of 11,000 either met her or knew of her.

There's no telling how many visitors pulled off Interstate 10 to eat there and had their piping-hot plates of waffles, eggs, crunchy toast and steaming bowls of grits served up with Block's trademark bright eyes and endearing smile.

Across town at another building Block frequented - Vidor AIM Center High School - there were memories of the outgoing teen who once walked its hallways.

It was at the school, where Block graduated in 2005, that her leadership potential began shining through, counselor Allie Callahan said.

Block came to AIM on a mission: to study, graduate and get to the military, Callahan said.

She was intent on finishing and not doing it alone. Ever the focused motivator, Block encouraged friends and classmates to move toward the same goal, school registrar LaDonna Clark said.

"She was their fire," Clark said. "She said 'I'm not going to graduate until you do,' and pushed them hard."

Block's emotional support is one of the things Amanda Buck said she will miss most.

Buck, who is engaged, said she was waiting for Block to return before getting married.

Buck said she remembers that Block wouldn't have wanted her to be upset if she died because she died doing what she wanted.

"It still doesn't feel real," she said. "I keep thinking she's going to come back and say: 'Hey! I was on a secret mission.'"

From the Beaumont Enterprise