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Community Reacts to First 101st Casualty

April 1, 2003

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) _ People in the communities surrounding Fort Campbell, home to the 101st Airborne Division, reacted with sadness Monday as word came of the division’s first combat death since the war with Iraq began.

While the name of the soldier was not released, residents near the fort said they feel it personally.

``They’re our own and we take it deep,″ said Bill Sleeper, who cuts hair at Bo’s Barber Shop in the Tennessee town of Clarksville, adjacent to Fort Campbell.

``Those are our boys,″ Sleeper said. ``It’s like our family. I look at those guys like my own kids, really. We grieve and mourn every loss.″

The soldier was killed Monday when Iraqis dressed as civilians opened fire with vehicle-mounted weapons during intense fighting around the Shiite Muslim holy city of Najaf, officials said.

Sleeper said his barbershop, which has two TVs tuned to round-the-clock news coverage, normally serves many Fort Campbell soldiers, many of whom are now overseas.

Paula Hanrahan, of Hopkinsville, about 10 miles from the Army post, said people there have developed a bond with the soldiers.

``I really hate it when solders are killed,″ Hanrahan said. ``They’re from our hometown. They’re our homeboys.″

Mike Miller, a local construction worker getting his hair cut Monday, said he was upset to hear the reported tactics of Iraqi soldiers. With all the sacrifices U.S. soldiers have made during the war, Miller said he hopes Iraqi citizens appreciate the American intervention.

``It just goes to show who you’re fighting against,″ Miller said. ``These people over there, they’re not going to fight fair. They’re going to use whatever means possible. Look at their leader,″ he said.

The soldier killed Monday was the division’s first combat death, though two others from the 101st were killed when a fellow soldier allegedly threw grenades into tents March 23. Sgt. Hasan Akbar, 32, is in custody and has been returned to the United States, though no charges have been filed.

The entire 101st Airborne, a rapid-deployment helicopter assault division of about 20,000 soldiers, is deployed for the first time since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

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