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Colo. Base Stunned by Soldiers’ Deaths

November 3, 2003

FORT CARSON, Colo. (AP) _ Fort Carson suffered its single heaviest combat loss since the Vietnam War with the deaths of four soldiers aboard a helicopter shot down in Iraq.

Many of the victims of Sunday’s attack were headed out of Iraq for R&R or emergency leave. One, Fort Carson-based Sgt. Ernest Bucklew, 33, was on his way home to attend his mother’s funeral in Pennsylvania, relatives said.

In all, 16 soldiers from various bases died and 20 were wounded in the deadliest single strike against U.S. forces since the invasion of Iraq in March.

``Iraq continues to be a very dangerous place to serve,″ Col. Michael Resty Jr., Fort Carson garrison commander, said Monday on ABC’s ``Good Morning America.″

``We provide whatever assistance we can with regard to force protection,″ including making sure troops are properly trained and equipped, he said. ``We need the American people’s support to ensure that we can provide those kind of things to soldiers that get deployed.″

Fort Carson has sent 12,000 troops to Iraq _ its largest deployment since World War II _ including units from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team and battalions of the 10th Special Forces Group.

Lt. Col. Tony Aguto, executive officer with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, told the Colorado Springs Gazette, ``We are all just kind of reeling for the moment.″

Officials at the base confirmed that the troops were on their way home for several days of rest and relaxation but would not release any other information until relatives of the soldiers had been notified. In addition to the four killed, 13 Fort Carson soldiers were wounded in the attack.

The Defense Department identified one of the victims as Staff Sgt. Paul A. Velazquez, 29, of California, stationed at Fort Sill, Okla. No hometown was released. The helicopter pilot was a 30-year-old Illinois National Guardsman from Genoa, Ill., said Illinois National Guard Lt. Col. Alicia Tate-Nadeau. She said four of the injured were with an Iowa National Guard detachment out of Davenport, Iowa.

``Our hearts are with all the family and loved ones of those brave soldiers killed and injured in this tragic incident,″ Illinois National Guard Adjutant General Randal Thomas said.

Bucklew, the son of a Pennsyvlania coal miner, had recently e-mailed family, saying he didn’t plan to take a 10-day leave because it would be too hard on his two sons back in Colorado, his uncle, Jack Smith, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But after his mother died Friday, he made arrangements through the Red Cross to return.

``His mother and dad prayed every night that he would come home safe,″ Smith said. ``Two deaths in three days is hard. I’m scared to death for my brother-in-law.″

The Chinook helicopter reportedly also was carrying soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Campbell, Ky. Officials at the other bases said they either would not or could not confirm any information regarding the crash.

Troops at Fort Carson are ``humbled″ and ``saddened″ by the crash, but are ``also serious and professional and have to continue the mission,″ said Lt. Col. Thomas Budzyna.

As Budzyna briefed the media outside Fort Carson’s main gate Sunday, a distraught young woman with a baby rushed up and asked reporters how many had been killed. After being reassured by an officer, she left, calmed.

The news comes as Melissa Givens marks a somber milestone this month: her husband, Pfc. Jesse A. Givens, died in Iraq six months ago. She said it upsets her to hear spouses complaining about the war dragging on.

``As long as they have somebody who could still come home I think they should just pray and keep that in mind,″ she said.


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