Fort Drum Mourns 10 Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan

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Ten American soldiers killed Friday in a helicopter crash in the hills of Afghanistan were all from Fort Drum, just north of Syracuse, N.Y. North Country Public Radio's David Sommerstein reports on the base's reaction to the loss of the soldiers.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Ten U.S. soldiers died in a helicopter crash Friday night in the mountains of Afghanistan. The military says the chopper was knocked down by enemy fire. All the soldiers were based at Fort Drum near Syracuse, New York.

David Sommerstein, of North Country Public Radio, reports.

DAVID SOMMERSTEIN reporting:

At five o'clock Sunday morning, Daisy Beau(ph) got a cryptic e-mail from her husband Sergio(ph) in Afghanistan.

Ms. DAISY BEAU: (Foreign language spoken)

SOMMERSTEIN: She pulls it up on her computer. The couple is from Puerto Rico. He writes in Spanglish he can't talk about certain bad things, but he guarantees Beau that he's okay and that she and their children give him strength.

Ms. BEAU: (Foreign language spoken)

SOMMERSTEIN: She looks at me and says, can you imagine how panicked I would be if you came asking about the crash and I hadn't heard from him?

(Soundbite of child crying)

SOMMERSTEIN: Natalie Schuckman(ph) and Sarah Esplain(ph) have dragged out the lawn chairs, barbecue, and toys. Their four boys wrestle on a spare mattress. Neither woman knew about the copter crash.

Schuckman's husband is an officer preparing to go to Iraq. She stopped watching the news, altogether.

Ms. NATALIE SCHUCKMAN: Especially with kids, when they see that, and all they're going to do is worry even more that, is my daddy going to get killed.

SOMMERSTEIN: Esplain's husband, Craig(ph), has been in Iraq for almost a year.

Ms. SARAH ESPLAIN: I don't know. I guess. It sounds sad, but it's almost like you get used to it - the fact that people are over there and that you may not have your husband coming back home.

SOMMERSTEIN: The 10th Mountain Division, based here, fought the first major battle in Afghanistan after 9/11. Since then, its troops have served multiple times in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sixty Fort Drum soldiers have now died in action.

Sergeant Michael Nichols(ph) is sweeping up lawn clippings next door. He was in Iraq in 2003.

Sgt. MICHAEL NICHOLS (United States Army): Ten members of our team, serving our country, went down like that. It wasn't exactly, you know, a very nice feeling and everything, and I felt for them and their families. But it's kind of part of the job.

SOMMERSTEIN: Sarah Esplain's husband was home for less than a year before he returned to Iraq. She says the back-to-back deployments are wearing thin on base.

Ms. ESPLAIN: They support what soldiers are doing and they support what's going on, but they don't - they want their kids to have a dad, or a mom, you know, whoever's gone. It's important to have a family even though you're in the military.

SOMMERSTEIN: more than 12,000 soldiers from Fort Drum are currently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of their families will try to make sense of this latest disaster, and hope the next one won't bring the ultimate bad news to their front door.

For NPR News, I'm David Sommerstein, in northern New York.

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