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Army Sgt. Gary D. Willett

Died February 8, 2008 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom

34, of Alamogordo, N.M.; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; died Feb. 8 in Taji, Iraq, of wounds sustained when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device. Also killed were Sgt. Timothy P. Martin, Spc. Michael T. Manibog and Staff Sgt. Jerald A. Whisenhunt.

Four Hawaii-based soldiers killed in Iraq

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — The Army says four soldiers in the Stryker brigade based at Schofield Barracks died in Iraq after a roadside bomb hit their vehicle.

The soldiers died in the town of Taji on Feb. 8.

Two of the soldiers were from California: Spc. Michael T. Manibog, 31, of Alameda, and Sgt. Timothy P. Martin, 27, of Pixley.

Manibog and Marting both joined the Army three years ago.

Staff Sgt. Jerald A. Whisenhunt, 32, of Orrick, Mo., and Sgt. Gary D. Willett, 34, of Alamogordo, N.M., also died. Whisenhunt joined the Army in 2000 and Willett joined in 1995.

The four were assigned to the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in the 25th Infantry Division.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, issued a statement saying the soldiers were part of “our island ohana,” or family.

“I salute these four brave soldiers for their service and sacrifice in a dangerous place far from home,” Inouye said. “We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.”

The fatal attack was the second involving Hawaii’s Stryker brigade, which deployed in November and December with 4,000 soldiers and over 300 Stryker vehicles.

The first unit’s first combat fatality occurred Jan. 19 when Spc. Jon Michael Schoolcraft III, 26, of Wapakoneta, Ohio, died from wounds received when his Stryker vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.

The death, also in Taji, came four days after the brigade officially took over responsibility for that area of Iraq, which is northwest of Baghdad.

Sergeant remembered as exemplary NCO

The Associated Press

Once Gary D. Willett became a sergeant, he worked hard to be one of the best noncommissioned officers in the Army, said Staff Sgt. Richard Gallego, a friend.

“We always wanted to outshine other NCOs,” Gallego said.

Willett once caught 2nd Lt. Daniel O’Connor chewing gum in formation and took the new soldier to task. Willett made such an impression on O’Connor that he swore off gum.

“He required much of those who served with him,” O’Connor said. “I can’t even think of Sergeant Willett as a private. I imagine he came into the Army as a sergeant.”

Willett, 34, of Alamogordo, N.M., was killed Feb. 8 in Taji when his vehicle struck an explosive. He was assigned to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

The oldest of three children, Willett was known to fight for the underdog. And when he set his mind to do something, it was best to get out of his way, said Patrick Mills, Willett’s stepfather.

“If it was there, he did it,” Mills said. “He was going to do it all.”

His family always knew Willett was destined for public service, though they thought he might become a firefighter or police officer. He enlisted in the Army in 1995.

He is survived by his son, Zeno Daily, 9.

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