Often the casualty count from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, ticking toward 6,000, incites an intense pride or outrage in Americans. Other times, single accounts of tragedy and heroism in the news — like Sal Giunta’s Medal of Honor story — give the public a chance to empathize with troops.
But this week, after reading the Associated Press’ “Toll capsules,” or brief obituaries, for 11 ordinary soldiers who died last week overseas, I felt a duller, mixed-up emotion.
I read each story, learning things about people I never met but could have known. By the time I read the last entry about Army Sgt. 1st Class Lance H. Vogeler, a father of two who was fluent in sign language because his parents are deaf, the stories had compounded, welling up my emotions, but without becoming an impersonal whole.
I felt half sad I was still living and they were dead and half inspired to enlist and risk my life on their behalf. (I served a tour of duty in Iraq in 2006.)
The fog of war pervades the frontlines — and the emotions.
Army Sgt. Eric C. Newman
Eric Newman was so respected by his commanding officer that the leader greeted the soldier in public with a reference to the TV show “Seinfeld” — “Hello, Newman.”
The greeting was frequently uttered by Jerry Seinfeld to his nemesis on the show, Newman. Brig. Gen. Robert Ashley’s respect, though, was no joke.
“The highest praise I can give to him is to say, ‘I served with him in combat,'” Ashley said at Newman’s funeral. Ashley’s remarks were reported by The Hattiesburg (Miss.) American newspaper.
Newman, 30, of Waynesboro, Miss., was killed in a bombing Oct. 14 in Akatzai Kalay, Afghanistan. He was assigned to Fort Bragg.
Newman had gotten his start in public service with the Waynesboro police department several years ago.
“He was an outstanding individual,” Waynesboro Police Chief James Bunch said. “And it doesn’t surprise me at all that he would sacrifice himself for his country.”
Newman’s sister, Kimberly Del Bosco, said Newman was a “great big brother and always tried to protect me.”
“He always tried his best to do everything the best possible way that he could,” she said.
Army Sgt. Justin A. Officer
As a youngster, Justin Officer wasn’t very fond of school, but he had a natural talent for art and drawing.
His father, Timothy Officer, said the soldier requested art supplies during his deployments, though he wasn’t sure if his son got around to finishing any drawings or paintings. It wasn’t his only hobby.
Justin Officer “liked typical boy adventures, like camping, fishing and playing video games,” his father, who was in the Air Force, told The Wichita Eagle.
The 26-year-old from Wichita, Kan., died Sept. 29 in Kandahar province. He joined the Army in 2004, had served two tours of duty in Iraq and was assigned to Fort Campbell.
His father told the newspaper that Officer planned to leave the Army and pursue school but changed his mind and extended his enlistment long enough to take the deployment.
“I asked him why many times, until he left,” his father said. “His only reply was he could help the new kids that were assigned to his unit and might save their lives.”
Survivors include his mother, Stacy; brother, Timothy; and sister, Kylea.
Army Spc. Ronnie J. Pallares
Ronnie Pallares liked writing, music and following his favorite teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Lakers.
When he was growing up in Rancho Cucamonga, his family saw him going into journalism or becoming a police officer. They didn’t know he had any interest in joining the military, his mother told the Los Angeles Times.
So, it came as a surprise in 2008 when a 17-year-old Pallares asked his mother for permission to enlist in the Army.
“I looked him straight in the eye and asked him, ‘You are telling me that you are willing to die for this country?’ He stood up and said, ‘Yes, Mom. Either you sign this or I will sign up when I am 18.’ I decided to support him,” Brenda Pallares told the Times.
Ronnie J. Pallares, 19, of Rancho Cucamonga, was killed in an explosion on Oct. 23 in Ghazni, Afghanistan. He was assigned to Fort Bragg.
His mother said he was weeks away from leaving Afghanistan, and they both were eager for his return home.
Pallares had a positive attitude, said his Little League coaches Dawn and Ronald Smith, and on a recent trip home, he had talked about also coaching one day.
“Things could be looking bad, and he would say, ‘Let’s turn it around!'” Dawn Smith said. “He was always trying to help the other guys on the team.”
Army Sgt. Brian J. Pedro
Brian Pedro wanted to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and stepfather. He wanted to make the Army his career, his mother said.
In April, he deployed on his second Afghanistan tour. He was 27 and based out of White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
He died nearly a half a year later in an Oct. 2 attack on his unit in Pol-e-Khumri, and despite his family’s grief, Pedro’s mother said his grandfather and stepfather are proud he died doing what he wanted to do.
“He was loved by all and will be missed by a whole lot of people,” his mother told KGET-TV in Bakersfield, Calif.
Pedro, who lists his hometown as Rosamond, Calif., attended Twentynine Palms High School and graduated from El Camino High School, Oceanside, Calif., in 2002. He enlisted in the Army in 2006.
Pedro had been a utilities equipment repairman in the Army, the military said. He will be posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and Combat Action Badge.
Pedro’s survivors include his wife, Shanna; parents Lululima and David Nelson; and grandmother, Carol Nelson.
Army Spc. Matthew C. Powell
Matthew Powell was a “big teddy bear” who kept working hard until he met with success, friends and family said.
He wasn’t the strongest student, and he wasn’t a starter on Northshore High School’s football team. But he attended every summer workout to sweat with a purpose, and he held his head high when he walked on the field in September with his former coach.
“He seemed to realize that he was doing something good, and that was good to see, that he was proud of what he was doing, that he was proud of his accomplishments,” the coach, Mike Bourg, told The Times-Picayune newspaper.
Shelly Jones, who taught Powell in Sunday school, likened him to the teddy bear: “So sweet, so strong, so tall,” she said.
Powell, 20, of Slidell, La., died Oct. 12 at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered in a bombing. He was assigned to Fort Campbell.
Jones’ 17-year-old daughter, Bethany, recalled Powell as “the sweet big brother figure in my life” whom she could always count on to cheer her up, even if he was serving overseas.
“He was always the funniest one,” she said, “the one doing the random dancing in the middle of the party, always being goofy.”
Army Spc. Joseph T. Prentler
Joseph “Joey” Prentler was in elementary school when he began telling his family he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: a soldier, just like his grandfather.
It was a career choice he stuck with through the years, and one that would take him far from his family’s farm in Fenwick, Mich. — first to Georgia for basic training and then to Vilseck, Germany, where his squadron was based.
“Going from when you’re 8 and making that decision and sticking with it, that’s really honorable,” Prentler’s cousin, Sonya Jakeway, told The Daily News of Greenville.
The 2008 graduate of Carson City-Crystal High School was killed in Mama Kraiz, Afghanistan, on Oct. 4 after being injured by an improvised explosive device.
Teachers said Prentler was often quiet in school, but friends and family said they’ll remember the 20-year-old for his goofy and fun-loving attitude — especially when he spent time with his family and his 13-year-old brother, Dakota.
“I want to be like him,” Dakota Prentler told WOOD-TV, saying he plans to join the military one day, too.
He’s also survived by his parents.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Charles M. Sadell
Charles Sadell was just out of Missouri’s Harrisburg High School in 1995 when he enlisted in the Army. A family friend told station KBIA that Sadell, known as “CJ” to his friends, was searching for direction.
He found it, along with a lengthy and decorated career that took him from his home in Columbia, Mo., to Saudi Arabia, Kosovo, Germany, Iraq and most recently to Afghanistan, where he was deployed this spring.
An avid outdoorsman who loved to spend time hunting, fishing and nailing balls on a golf course, the 34-year-old intelligence analyst married Kristin Dawn McMillan in 1999. The couple have two sons, Cameron and Hunter. They lived in Weston, Mo.
“He was just a very stand-up guy,” the friend, Kristen Adams told KBIA Radio. “He was very respectful. He was a great husband, an amazing father; just an all-around great guy. Everyone that met him just fell in love with him because he was just a charmer.”
Sadell was hurt Oct. 5 when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device in Arif Kala, Afghanistan. He died Oct. 24 at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He was assigned to Fort Drum.
Army Sgt. Mark A. Simpson
Mark Simpson was the youngest in his family but could go toe-to-toe with his four siblings, whether they were exchanging pranks or debating professional football teams and his beloved New England Patriots.
“We would razz each other over who would win, and when the Patriots did win, oh, he’d rub it in really good,” his sister Carol Goewey told the Peoria Journal-Star in Illinois.
The 40-year-old Star Trek fan from Peoria, Ill., graduated from Richwoods High School in 1988, and later worked in several states.
Simpson did construction and worked as a bailiff in Colorado and had been in law enforcement in Texas before joining the military in 2004 to support his family and see the world, the newspaper reported.
“He was going to do this until he could retire or they kicked him out,” his sister said. “He knew he needed to do this.”
Simpson, known by comrades as “Pappy,” died in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Sept. 26, a day after his vehicle was hit with an explosive. He was assigned to Fort Hood and had served in Iraq.
He and his wife, Aletha, have three daughters. He’s also survived by his parents, George and Carol.
Army Pfc. David R. Jones
When David Jones finished playing in a late morning baseball game he didn’t hang around long to chitchat with teammates. Instead, he left to participate in a 5K run later that afternoon with his younger brother, Alex. Jones was keeping a promise he had made to Alex.
Jason Brundage, Jones’ high school baseball and basketball coach, recalled the story recently for the Times Union newspaper in Albany after learning that Jones, an Army prison guard, had died in Iraq.
“He was a good kid, a consummate team player who worked hard for everything he got,” said Brundage, athletic director at St. Johnsville High School in upstate New York.
Jones, 21, of St. Johnsville, died of a gunshot wound Oct. 24 in Baghdad. The military says the shooting was not related to combat and is investigating.
Jones was a 2008 graduate of St. Johnsville High and attended Fulton-Montgomery Community College before joining the Army in 2009. He was assigned to Fort Hood.
Jones was to return home on leave this month and had planned to take his girlfriend, Brittany Winton, to a New York Giants game and ask her to marry him.
Survivors also include his parents, Theresa Ann Bennett and David Richard Jones.
Army Pfc. Dylan T. Reid
Dylan Reid joined the Army on a whim in 2008, his sister told The Springfield News-Leader.
“That’s the way things were with him,” Erika Reid told the newspaper.
The 24-year-old from Springfield, Mo., was a 2005 graduate of Desert Technology High School in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. He loved cars and tinkering with machines, a habit that became part of his job in the Army, where his specialty was repairing tracked vehicles.
Reid became a father in September, when his daughter Avery Lynn was born in Minnesota.
“He couldn’t wait to be a dad,” Erika Reid told the newspaper. “It’s all he ever talked about.”
The military said Reid died Oct. 16 from a noncombat incident in Amarah, Iraq. He went to Iraq in March for his first deployment.
He was assigned to Fort Carson.
Survivors include his parents, Terry and Kelli Reid, and several siblings.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Lance H. Vogeler
Even as a young Boy Scout, Lance Vogeler had the makings of a leader, according to his childhood pals.
Ryan Heffner, in an e-mail to the Frederick (Md.) News-Post, recalled a trip to Cunningham Falls when he was 10 or 11 — Vogeler would have been 13 or 14 at the time. Some of the kids decided to climb a waterfall instead of taking the easy way around.
Heffner said he became unsteady on the rocks and feared he might fall, especially because the others had made it up. Vogeler was there to calm him down and pull him up to safer ground.
“He told me no matter what happened, he wouldn’t let me fall,” Heffner wrote.
Vogeler, 29, of Frederick was killed Oct. 1 in Bastion, Afghanistan, when insurgents attacked his unit. He was assigned to Georgia’s Hunter Army Airfield. He was a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School.
Vogeler had two children, 11-year-old Madison and 10-year-old Kyle, and he and wife Melissa is expecting a child.
As a high school student, Vogeler was fluent in sign language because his parents are deaf. That meant he had to translate during parent-teacher conferences, his French language teacher, Teresa Wilson, told the newspaper.
“You’re telling them exactly what I’m saying, aren’t you, Lance?” she would joke.
He would reply: “Oh, oui, madame.”