Three military policemen based at Fort Richardson were killed this week in northern Iraq when a rocket tore into their vehicle and exploded, the Department of Defense said Thursday.
The soldiers, with the 545th Military Police Company, Arctic Military Police Battalion, were killed Tuesday when enemy forces attacked their convoy in Baji, officials said.
The soldiers were identified as Staff Sgt. Shannon M. Smith, 31, of Marion, Ohio; Pfc. Thomas F. Lyons, 20, of Fernley, Nev.; and Pfc. Zachary T. Myers, 21, of Delaware, Ohio.
The three were traveling together in a vehicle headed toward Baji in northern Iraq at about 11:40 a.m. Lyons was driving. Three other vehicles were in the convoy. An armor-piercing rocket struck the vehicle behind the driver's side door, destroying it.
"Knowing Thomas, he was probably at the time looking at his buddies and joking around, driving," said his stepfather, John Flint, reached Thursday at home in Fernley, Nev. "He probably was dead before he even knew what happened."
No other injuries were reported.
According to Associated Press reports, Tuesday, with four combat deaths, was the deadliest day for American forces in Iraq since combat troops pulled back from urban areas more than two months ago. A roadside bomb earlier in the day struck a patrol in southern Baghdad, killing one American soldier. The fatalities raised to at least 4,343 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003.
According to the Army's numbers for 2009, the three Fort Richardson casualties Tuesday are the only ones the 545th Military Police Company has experienced since it deployed. Fort Richardson's 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), which is deployed to Afghanistan, has suffered nine deaths. The 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks suffered three combat deaths in Iraq.
"It hits everybody every time you have one of these," said Army spokesman Chuck Canterbury. "We just had a memorial ceremony yesterday for two soldiers that were killed and we'll have another one later on this month for three more ... and then after that one, we'll have another one on these three MPs."
SECURITY AND TRAINING MISSION
The soldiers were part of a deployment of about 175 soldiers from the 545th Military Police Company who went to Iraq for a year in May. Their job is to provide security as well as police training to the Iraqi army.
According to Army officials, Smith joined the service in September 1997. He served at Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; and in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia before arriving in Alaska in April 2008. Myers joined the Army in February 2008 and arrived in Alaska in August 2008.
Their families asked for privacy Thursday.
"It's rough. That's all I can tell you. It's really rough on everybody," said Dan McGuire, Smith's father-in-law.
Flint said Lyons wanted to be a police officer someday and wanted the training the military offered. The family supported the decision. The family, including Lyons, is Mormon and understands God's plan, he said.
"He was doing what he felt he needed to do and he was happy with his decision," Flint said. "He knew the risk, but he wanted to do it. He died doing what he felt was right, doing what he felt he needed to do, and we respect that of him."
Lyons joined the Army in November 2007 and arrived in Alaska in May 2008. Here, he met his wife, Delvin, who is also a soldier based at Fort Richardson, Flint said.
Lyons left for Iraq later than others in his unit because Delvin was expecting their son, Erik, and he was able to stay with them for two weeks, Flint said. Now 3 months old, Erik and his mother were on their way Thursday to Nevada to bury Lyons at a veterans' cemetery, Flint said.
Lyons' body was expected to arrive in Reno on Monday and a service would likely happen the next day, Flint said.
Already by Thursday, a list of tributes to the soldier had been posted on his MySpace page by friends, family and fellow soldiers. His wife was among them.
"Baby, I love and will always miss you," Delvin wrote. "No matter how my life changes, I loved you first and foremost and will always. Erik is going to miss his daddy, but when he gets older he'll know you're a hero and your resting in Heaven. Wait there for me ... Don't forget about us!"
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