Iraq Newcomers Face First Fatalities

Two-thirds of the members of the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment are just out of basic training. They did not expect to be in Iraq so soon. But things changed and now they're in Baghdad, trying to cope with the loss of three comrades.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Advisors to Iraq's security forces come from the same Kansas base as an Army unit that has seen fighting sooner than expected. Most of the troops in a regiment known as the Black Lions are just out of basic training. Now they're part of the surge of troops fighting in Baghdad. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on their first losses.

(Soundbite of radio transmission)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: The news came into the operations room at the Black Lions headquarters just after 8:00 a.m. A roadside bomb had exploded next to one of their patrols. There were casualties, the unit's first. Two men were killed. It was to be a bad day. At around 10:00, word that the recovery team had been ambushed trickled in. Their chaplain, who had rushed out to the original blast scene, was shot in the shoulder. Then in the afternoon, yet another attack led to the third death.

Most of the Black Lions trained together and then came to the unit together. And because of that, they're a tight group. Twenty-seven-year-old First Lieutenant Robert Riggs(ph) is from Houston, Texas.

First Lieutenant ROBERT RIGGS (U.S. Army): When the brigade stands up new, they need a whole bunch of officers in the same place, so that's where we all go. It makes it a little easier when you get to a unit and you already know six or seven other lieutenants.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But harder too when members of the unit die. While 34-year-old Warrant Officer Daniel Williams(ph) works, Don Henley's song "End of the Innocence," plays in the background. His team has to clean out the blood- splattered vehicles. On this day he's asked for volunteers. Few here have seen this kind of carnage before.

Warrant Officer DANIEL WILLIAMS (U.S. Army): I'm not going to throw someone in there that doesn't want to be there, so we ask for volunteers to take care of a mission like that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But he also knows...

Warrant Officer WILLIAMS: This is something we're going to see for a long time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That night there was a small, solemn ceremony at the helicopter pad for one of the dead, who was being flown back to Baghdad. A soldier says in hushed tones...

Unidentified Man (U.S. Army): I've never seen one of these done before.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The only sound in the still night is the crunch of the gravel underneath the soldiers' feet as they carried the wrapped corpse to be flown away. The men from the unit silently salute. The names of the soldiers that died that day are Army Specialist Curtis Glawson from Daleville, Alabama; Sergeant Wayne Cornell, from Holstein, Nebraska; and Private First Class Stephen Richardson from Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.

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