"It's very bad," the voice over the phone said to Maj. Timothy Gauthier, who was groggy with sleep early on the morning of Dec. 21. "You need to get in here right now."
• Iraq 2003
• Iraq 2004
• Afghanistan and elsewhere
"Little did I know how bad it was," Gauthier said Wednesday, Dec. 29, recalling how he felt after learning six members of his Fort Lewis Lancers, part of the Stryker force, had been killed by a determined suicide bomber in Iraq. Apparently wearing an Iraqi army uniform over explosives strapped to his body, the bomber sat chatting and eating with the troops of the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, before the mess hall bombing. Killed were 22 people, including 14 U.S. soldiers.
The blast brought to 80 the number of troops with Washington state connections killed in Gulf War II in Iraq and Afghanistan. Forty-two soldiers based at Fort Lewis have died, 11 from Gauthier's division.
It was the efficiency and swiftness of it that weighed heavily on the fort. Six of their own, lives instantly blown away during lunch in the relative safety of Forward Operating Base Marez near Mosul. A memorial at Soldiers Field House Wednesday morning at Fort Lewis, four days after Christmas, was attended by 1,600 people, awash in tears. Among the dead was career military man Capt. Bill Jacobsen, 31, who was born at Fort Bragg, N.C., the son of a now-retired Army lieutenant colonel and the first Stryker commander from Fort Lewis to die in Iraq. The father of four children was killed on his ninth wedding anniversary. He "was the epitome of a warrior, a gentleman, and a devoted husband and father," said Gauthier, taking deep breaths as he spoke in a shaky voice to the fort audience. "I wish I could be more like him," Gauthier said, reading the words that Jacobsen's own commander, Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla, had said at an earlier memorial in Iraq, "and that is the legacy he left."
Also killed were Pfc. Lionel Ayro, 22, of Jeanerett, La.; Spc. Jonathan Castro, 21, Corona, Calif.; Staff Sgt. Robert S. Johnson, 23, Seaside, Calif.; Staff Sgt. Julian S. Melo, 47, Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Sgt. Darren D. VanKomen, 33, raised in Lewiston, Idaho. "When we talk about great NCOs, great soldiers, great people, we talked about Darren," said Capt. Vincent Maykovich, reading the words of one of VanKomen's commanders in Iraq. "He had a way with people I had never seen before and will probably never see again."