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Relatives Wait for News on Missing Troops

March 26, 2003

DALLAS (AP) _ Since Sunday, Randy and Janie Kiehl have huddled around a makeshift command center in their living room, using the Internet, the telephone and news from satellite TV as they try to find out what happened to their only child.

Army Spc. James Kiehl, 22 is one of at least 10 soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company missing in Iraq. U.S. officials say they were ambushed Sunday near An Nasiriyah, 230 miles outside Baghdad.

At least some of the soldiers are feared dead: Television stations have broadcast Iraqi video of five captured soldiers and four bodies, though the footage did not show identifying features.

``When they show the four bodies of the deceased soldiers, I can’t get any accountability from the military. They’ve got faces. Is one of them James?″ Randy Kiehl said from the family’s home in Comfort, 45 miles northwest of San Antonio.

The military has confirmed 10 missing soldiers were with the 507th, which deployed last month from Fort Bliss, in the far western tip of Texas. The 507th keeps diesel tanker trucks rolling, fixes generators and maintains mechanical parts.

According to relatives, the soldiers shown in Iraqi custody are Spc. Edgar Hernandez, 21, of Mission, Texas; Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23, of Alamogordo, N.M.; Pfc. Patrick Miller, 23, of Park City, Kan.; Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 30, of Fort Bliss, Texas; and Sgt. James Riley, 31, of Pennsauken, N.J.

Riley’s parents were already awaiting life-and-death news when their son disappeared: His 29-year-old sister, Mary, slipped into a coma in January with a rare neurological disorder.

Pennsauken Mayor Bill Orth said he planned to have city workers put up ribbons on some of the township’s main streets for Riley’s family. Riley’s sister, Katherine, 22, said most of the town’s stores were sold out of yellow ribbons.

Hernandez, a supply truck driver, was recognized by his brother Joel.

``His job really is not that dangerous, but once you’re out there anything you do is dangerous I guess,″ Joel Hernandez said from his home in Mission.

Johnson, a single mother, also was recognized by relatives. ``You never think that one of your family members would be one of those to be taken captive,″ said cousin Tracy Thorne.

Hudson’s wife, Natalie, said Army officials had called to reassure her that all possible steps would be taken to get him home safely.

``They tried to keep it positive,″ she said in Alamogordo, N.M. The couple have a 5-year-old daughter.

Miller’s wife, Jessa, had been in seclusion at Valley Center, Kan., since news arrived of her husband’s capture, said the Rev. Ron Pracht of Olivet Southern Baptist Church in Wichita.

``She is doing pretty well right now, but is still kind of numb. ... This is just wiping her out,″ Pracht said.

Besides Kiehl, three of the missing were identified by relatives as Pvt. Brandon Sloan, 19, of Bedford Heights, Ohio; Pfc. Lori Piestewa, 22, of Tuba City, Ariz.; and Pfc. Jessica Lynch, 19, of Palestine, W.Va. The names of other soldiers missing around An Nasiriyah were not available.

Lynch’s brother, Gregory Lynch Jr., is also in the military and that was a big factor in her enlistment, said their father, Gregory Lynch. ``She just re-signed up for four more years, just like her brother,″ the elder Lynch said.

Sloan left high school in his senior year to join the Army. ``He was very much committed to the cause of country,″ said his father, the Rev. Tandy Sloan, an associate pastor of Historic Greater Friendship Baptist Church in Cleveland.

Piestewa is ``a tough kid, and she keeps her head about her and her wits about her,″ said older brother Wayland.

Randy Kiehl, 47, said his biggest frustration had been the lack of information.

``As far as information goes, up to talking to people from the Pentagon, I’ve gotten the same information or story line _ ‘We don’t have anything else; he’s listed as MIA,’ `` Kiehl said.

Kiehl said his daughter-in-law, Jill, was staying with her parents in Des Moines, Iowa, as she expects her first child. The boy is due the last week of April.

``I want him to come home safe,″ he said. ``He’s got a son to raise.″

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