Two soldiers from Fort Eustis were killed and two were wounded Wednesday when their vehicle was hit by a rocket near Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq, making it the deadliest day for the Newport News Army post since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.
An Army Reservist from Texas attached to the unit, the Fort Eustis-based 7th Sustainment Brigade, was also killed.
Spc. Dustin C. Jackson was 21 and officially assigned to the 350th Adjutant General Company from Grand Prairie, Texas.
Both Fort Eustis soldiers — Staff Sgt. Juantrea T. Bradley, a 28-year-old originally from North Carolina, and Pfc. Tenzin L. Samten, a 33-year-old originally from Arizona — deployed in October.
Because of medical privacy laws, the military does not release information about troops wounded in Iraq.
Tallil has been considered a relatively safe region in Iraq. The Fayetteville (North Carolina) Observer reported just over a week ago that members of the 82nd Airborne Division are rebuilding the tourist infrastructure surrounding the Ur ziggurat — a pyramid-shaped temple built in the ancient city believed by some to be the birthplace of the biblical prophet Abraham.
Two weeks ago a young Army lieutenant working security near Tallil told the Observer that "we've shut down 100 percent of the enemy activity in this area."
The vehicle Bradley, Samten and Jackson were using was "non-tactical," according to a Fort Eustis spokeswoman. Non-tactical vehicles could include the armored and non-armored sport utility vehicles used in Iraq, according to a military spokesman in Baghdad.
Vehicles without armor, he said, are not allowed off post.
There were no details about the type of rocket or where it may have been fired from.
Next week marks the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq. Since March 19, 2003, nearly 4,000 American troops, including seven civilians, have been killed. Including the Fort Eustis soldiers killed this week, 49 military troops and Defense Department civilians with ties to Hampton Roads have died in Iraq.
Nearly 29,400 troops have been wounded, with just more than 16,000 returned to duty, according to Defense Department statistics.
Bradley, a cargo specialist, enlisted in the Army in 2002 and has been stationed at Fort Eustis since 2004. He leaves behind a wife and four children in Newport News. Bradley's widow, Ava, "is in no state to talk about it right now," Ava's mother, Bernice Grimes, said. "It's too fresh. She's hurting. She is deeply hurting and has to try to heal."
This was Bradley's third deployment to the Middle East, and his second to Iraq.
Samten joined the Army in 2006 and moved to Fort Eustis in May. He is survived by his wife and two children, who could not be reached Friday.
Only one other soldier directly assigned to Fort Eustis has been killed since the start of the war.
Spc. Raymond Faulstich died in August 2004 after his supply convoy came under attack near Najaf. In Iraq, Faulstich's unit, the 89th Transportation Company, was based at Tallil.
Twelve soldiers were killed in three days throughout Iraq this week.
A military spokesman told The Associated Press that the Wednesday rocket attack was roughly 200 miles south of Baghdad on Combat Outpost Adder near Nasiriyah.
Camp Adder is on Tallil Air Base, which, according to www.globalsecurity.org, "was the southernmost Army resupply point in Iraq."
Steve Ruggiero, a former Army captain who deployed to Iraq in 2004, spent many nights at Tallil and nearby Camp Cedar. Tallil and Cedar, sitting on the edge of Mesopotamia's ancient city of Ur, were the first stop along the main supply route from Kuwait to northern and central Iraq. "Then, it was one of the safest regions," he said. "We never lost three soldiers. The worst our unit lost was one."
Ruggiero, who spent a year in Iraq as a young lieutenant on loan from Fort Eustis to a Texas National Guard company, was not on the convoy where that soldier was killed. "But we were on a convoy mission one day (later)," Ruggiero said. "They stopped our convoy where we were at and sent a chaplain to us for grief counseling."
To lose three soldiers in one attack, he said, "would be a massive blow to morale, for sure. But our resolve to the mission was better after we lost a soldier."
July 6, 2007, was the last time a Hampton Roads unit suffered more than two casualties from a single attack in Iraq. Three sailors from Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek were killed that day when a homemade bomb exploded near their Humvee near Baghdad.
Killed were 1st Class Petty Officers Jason Lewis, a 30-year-old SEAL with a wife and three children in Virginia Beach; Steven P. Daugherty, a 28-year-old cryptologic technician with a son in Virginia Beach; and Robert McRill, a 42-year-old combat photographer with a wife and three children in York County. They were all assigned to an East Coast SEAL team.
In February, two Hampton Roads-based Navy SEALs — Chief Petty Officers Nathan H. Hardy and Michael E. Koch — were killed by small arms fire in Iraq while conducting combat operations. Both were 29.
Memorial services and funeral arrangements were still being arranged for Bradley and Samten.
About the unit The Fort Eustis-based 7th Sustainment Brigade, formerly the 7th Transportation Group, has roughly 1,000 soldiers deployed to Iraq. The soldiers are largely responsible for military supplies — unloading cargo ships in Kuwait, trucking the goods into Iraq and managing the movement of supply containers through the war zone.