Fort Bragg Families Told of Iraq Deaths

Officials at Fort Bragg, N.C., met Tuesday with the families of paratroopers killed a day earlier in Iraq. A truck bomb claimed the lives of nine members of the Army's elite 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg.

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When a truck bomb killed nine American soldiers in Iraq this week, all the dead were paratroopers from the Army's elite 82nd Airborne Division. That division is based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which is where we're going next. Officials spent yesterday notifying and meeting with families of the victims.

NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.

ADAM HOCHBERG: Not since the Vietnam War has the 82nd Airborne Division lost so many men on a single day in a single attack. Monday's truck bombing happened at a place soldiers in Iraq consider relatively safe - a patrol base protected by fortified concrete walls. But the attackers, using two large trucks, managed to breach the walls and detonate a bomb near a building on the base. The building collapsed, killing soldiers inside.

At Fort Bragg, public affairs officer Major Tom Earnhardt says the deaths have been painful for everybody in the 82nd.

Major TOM EARNHARDT (Spokesman, 82nd Airborne Division): It just has a profound impact on the whole division, both in Afghanistan and Iraq and here. It's just, it's a sad hard day.

HOCHBERG: The Army has not released the names of the victims, but the Associated Press, based on interviews with families, has identified several including Army Medic Garrett Knoll of Verona, Michigan; Staff Sergeant Clint Moore of Benson, North Carolina; and Private First Class Michael Rodriguez of Knoxville, Tennessee. Major Earnhardt says the 82nd Airborne prides itself on overcoming adversity. But he calls the loss of nine men a gut check.

Maj. EARNHARDT: The death of one paratrooper impacts everybody. I mean, the whole division knows about it. And it's unacceptable and it's tragic. And then when you take that one and turn it into a nine, and you're talking about nine brothers who aren't coming back with the unit, and it hurts.

HOCHBERG: Military officials yesterday continued the task of notifying families of the dead, some of them around Fort Bragg, others scattered around the country. Army chaplain James Brisson was part of a team that broke the news to several families, visiting them one by one at their homes.

Major JAMES BRISSON (U.S. Army Chaplain, 82nd Airborne Division): It is a pain that is unbearable as you're approaching doors to tell family members this; it is oftentimes with fear and trepidation. Yet it is also with an honor and a sense of a great humbleness that you go forward.

HOCHBERG: Since 9/11, 106 Fort Bragg paratroopers have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. While Chaplain Brisson says support for the war effort remains strong in this military community, he told reporters he also detects growing anxiety among some soldiers and their families.

Major BRISSON: You know, some of these guys are on their fourth, fifth, sixth deployments. That's a lot. That would be a lot for anybody. So with that then come some strains and some stressors.

(Soundbite of barber shop)

HOCHBERG: Yesterday, just outside Fort Bragg at the New Cuts barbershop, soldiers watched TV reports about the suicide bombing. And some admitted they feel that's stress.

Sergeant Sonia Thompson(ph) plans her third deployment to Iraq next month. As she waited for her teenage son to get his haircut, Thompson said she fears insurgents in Iraq are becoming bolder.

Sergeant SONIA THOMPSON (U.S. Army): At first it wasn't that bad. But now it's more of the suicide bombings and a lot more - you know, they find different ways to kill you, you know.

HOCHBERG: Does that scare you at all, that it seems to be getting more dangerous?

Sgt. THOMPSON: Yes, I have some concerns, but I don't constantly think about it every day. I just try to do my mission and just pray I get back safe.

HOCHBERG: In all more than 80 U.S. service members have been killed in Iraq this month - the highest death toll since 112 died in December.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News.

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