Georgia Guard Mourns Iraq Losses

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In the past two weeks, the 48th Brigade Combat Team of the Georgia National Guard has lost seven soldiers in Iraq. Those are the first combat losses for the Georgia guard since World War II.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

In Iraq today, US and Iraqi troops patrolled Hadithah on the third day of Operation Quick Strike, an offensive against insurgents in the Euphrates Valley. A key bridge at Hadithah had been blown up by US forces, witnesses said, and soldiers raided homes. In the US, the realities of the war are hitting home in many communities far from military bases as more members of the National Guard are sent to Iraq. In recent days, the Georgia National Guard saw its first combat deaths since World War II. In three road bombings, 11 servicemen died. Joshua Levs visited the family of one of those troops and has this report.

JOSHUA LEVS reporting:

Daphne Kinlow sits on her bed, her arms wrapped around a large cardboard box.

Ms. DAPHNE KINLOW: This is my James Kinlow box; it's my time capsule.

LEVS: It contains newspaper announcements of his death and dozens of cards from people throughout the country.

Ms. KINLOW: It's just been overwhelming how they've come out and said, `We appreciate the sacrifice that your husband made,' and that I will share with my grandkids one day.

LEVS: Thirty-five-year-old James Kinlow and three of his comrades on the 48th Brigade Combat Team were killed when their Humvee was struck by an improvised explosive device during a patrol in Baghdad. Daphne knew something was wrong when she didn't hear from him. She stayed late at work at the McDuffie County school offices near her home in Thomson, Georgia. She thought about what James said would happen if he died. Two military officials would bring her the news.

Ms. KINLOW: And I was just standing there and I happened to look up and here come two suits down the hall. And I said, `Oh, my God.'

LEVS: They stepped into a room where one read the announcement of James Kinlow's death.

Ms. KINLOW: Bless his heart. The chaplain was there and he was steady, but the guy that read it--he just could not get through it. He just sobbed with me.

LEVS: Major General David Poythress is Georgia's adjutant general. He oversees the state's National Guard. He says losing all these soldiers within days of each other has been a tough blow to the state's military community.

Major General DAVID Poythress (Georgia National Guard): It's painful for everybody involved, certainly most for the families, but also for their extended family in the Guard.

LEVS: Most of the 9,000 members of the Georgia National Guard have served in Iraq over the past two years, but these were the first combat deaths in six decades.

Maj. Gen. Poythress: We've had to learn how to hold military funerals.

LEVS: Poythress said he expects it will be tougher to draw people into the National Guard.

Maj. Gen. Poythress: I think it's fair to say that we will see some changes in terms of recruiting and retention. Certainly, recruiting is down; there's no doubt that it's because of the war and the ultimate possibility of death.

LEVS: James and Daphne Kinlow's 15-year-old son, Chauncey, says he'll never go into the military.

CHAUNCEY KINLOW: 'Cause I look at the sacrifices that he made in the military for everybody. No, sir.

Ms. KINLOW: ...Mama probably is gonna scream and kick and fall out if you do. I can't bear to lose another to that.

LEVS: Daphne's brother, Dave Ferguson, was a full-time enlisted soldier who served in Iraq. He's now out of the military and feels conflicted about the war. On one hand, he believes it's a necessary part of the war on terrorism.

Mr. DAVE FERGUSON: But at the same time, well, I feel like we're fighting a losing battle because when people are willing to sacrifice their life for what they believe in, you're almost in a no-win situation.

LEVS: Daphne Kinlow says when her husband got orders to go to Iraq, he spoke highly of the mission, saying it might help protect his son and 10-year-old daughter, Chelsea, or their children in the future. Daphne worried that National Guard troops were not as prepared as full-time enlisted troops, but her husband tried to convince her they were. She says in the end no amount of preparation would have saved him.

Ms. KINLOW: How are you to know that bombs are on the side of the road planted in dead animals and all this other stuff, you know, dead bodies--you know, things of that nature? I don't think anybody's prepared for that.

LEVS: She describes James Kinlow as funny, loving and straight-talking. He was very close to his family and was one of the loudest cheering parents at his son's football games, and even if she didn't share James' view of the Iraq War, she never let him know.

Ms. KINLOW: He was a soldier. He's my soldier, you know, and regardless of how I felt about the war efforts or regardless of what I feel about the administration or our President Bush or anybody else, he's my soldier and I support my soldier.

LEVS: James Kinlow was buried this week after a funeral at the First Baptist Church in Lincolnton, Georgia, the church he attended since childhood.

For NPR News, I'm Joshua Levs in Thomson, Georgia.

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