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- The People Behind The Sacrifice
Army Sgt. Joel W. Lewis
Died May 6, 2007 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom
28, of Sandia Park, N.M.; assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash.; died May 6 in Baqubah, Iraq, of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle during combat operations. Also killed were Staff Sgt. Vincenzo Romeo, Sgt. Jason R. Harkins, Cpl. Matthew L. Alexander, Cpl. Anthony M. Bradshaw and Cpl. Michael A. Pursel.
Soldier with Oklahoma ties killed in Iraq
By Justin Juozapavicius
The Associated Press
TULSA, Okla. — Army Spc. Joel Lewis, a gung-ho adventurer who put marriage to his sweetheart on hold to serve his country, was among six soldiers killed over the weekend in a roadside bomb blast in Iraq, his family said.
Lewis, 28, had ties to Sand Springs, a suburb of Tulsa, where his mother and stepfather live. He was a member of a Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Lewis, Wash., and had been in Iraq since February.
A freelance news photographer from Russia also was killed, and two more soldiers were wounded in the May 6 improvised explosive device attack, according to the Department of Defense.
On May 8, family members remembered Lewis as a competitive “adrenaline junkie” who loved to skydive, tinker with computers and play chess and ice hockey.
Lewis stood tall at 6-foot-5 and weighed 250 pounds, but had a disarming, hearty laugh that seemed to draw people toward him, recalled his mother, Gale Poindexter.
“I don’t know what led him [into the Army], the adventure or the travel,” Poindexter said. “He was always into that band-of-brothers type of thing.
“He kind of had no fear.”
Chisel away the tough-guy exterior and you’d find the romantic who proposed to his fiancee in Washington only a few months after meeting her, family members said.
“He was like home,” said Julie Smith, a bookkeeper who met Joel in September through an online dating service. “We got to know each other so easily.”
Their first date was dinner at a restaurant, then talking on the beach until after sundown. By December, Joel confessed to her on a car trip that he’d been looking at engagement rings. Then, in January, he just blurted out, “Will you marry me?” one day when they were at home, she recalled.
“He couldn’t wait a second longer, he just had to know,” said Smith, sobbing.
Plans to marry were put on hold until after he was scheduled to return in October.
Justin, Lewis’ younger brother, said Joel was always the one trying the new adventures, the free spirit who didn’t want to be tied down to a desk job when he got out of the service, the one who taught him to play chess.
“He had so much life ahead of him,” Justin Lewis said. “I was operating under, ‘This is not going to happen to me or my family.’ ”
Relatives grieve the loss of 6 Fort Lewis soldiers killed in Iraq
By Melanthia Mitchell
The Associated Press
SEATTLE — None of the six soldiers killed in one of the deadliest attacks on a Fort Lewis unit in more than two years lived to see his 30th birthday.
They were members of the Army’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and all had entered active-duty service within the past six years. Most were serving their first tour when a homemade bomb exploded near their vehicle May 6 in Baqubah, Iraq.
As the post south of Tacoma plans a memorial service May 15, relatives of the soldiers recalled the fallen sons, brothers and fiancÃ‚Â©s they had hoped to see come home in October.
At 28, Joel Lewis was the oldest of the six soldiers and serving his first tour in Iraq.
Sgt. Lewis stood 6-foot-6 and attracted friends easily with his broad smile and infectious laughter, said his mother, Gale Poindexter.
“He exuded a warmth. He wasn’t intimidating,” Poindexter said in a telephone call May 10 from her home in Tulsa, Okla.
Lewis, of Sandia Park, N.M., was charismatic and loved the outdoors, taking enjoyment in hockey, skydiving and snowboarding.
His mother said he joined the Army in June 2001, likely for adventure and travel.
“He just would never be a 9-to-5, desk kind of guy,” said Poindexter, who plans for her son to be buried at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent.
Staff Sgt. Vincenzo Romeo had planned to marry his fiancÃ‚Â©e, Amanda Anderson of Tacoma, when he returned from Iraq later this year.
“Enzo,” as loved ones called him, was a “kind and courageous person who brought joy and laughter to all around him,” his family said in a statement.
Romeo, 23, of Lodi, N.J., was born in Calabria, Italy, and came to the U.S. with his family in 1986.
He joined the military in March 2003 and by November of that year had deployed with the 3rd Brigade for his first mission to Iraq.
This latest tour was Romeo’s second to Iraq, one that was extended by three months in an effort to bolster troop levels in the country.
“Enzo, our hearts are broken and our lives will never be the same without you,” relatives said. “We love and miss you always.”
Jason Harkins also was serving for a second time in Iraq.
The 25-year-old sergeant from Clarksville, Ga., first joined the Army Reserves in 1999, then volunteered for active duty in December 2002.
A true “country boy,” Harkins enjoyed returning to his hometown to fish and spend time with his family, wife Emily said in a statement.
“He found the best in every situation and could always make those around him laugh,” Emily said. “He was also a very loving man, who cared deeply for people and looked forward to one day being a father.”
Cpl. Matthew Alexander, 21, enlisted in the Army after graduating from Gretna High School in Nebraska in 2004.
He reported to Fort Lewis in December 2004 and eventually was assigned to the 3rd Brigade’s 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Division.
This was the first deployment for Alexander, whose wife, Kara, said he “was the most gracious man I knew.”
“He made it his life’s work to take care of those he loved,” she said in a statement.
The young soldier “fought for a cause he believed in, and on May 6, 2007, died for a country he loved,” she said.
“Matt truly was our angel on Earth. He will be greatly missed.”
Anthony Bradshaw’s older brother was already in the military when he decided to enlist in the Army in August 2004.
The 21-year-old reported for training at Fort Benning, Ga., then was assigned to Fort Lewis.
Less than two years later, in June 2006, Cpl. Bradshaw left for his first deployment.
His cousin, Andrea Shea, told KTSM Television in El Paso, Texas, that it was hard learning of the young man’s death.
“You don’t believe it. You just want to know what happened,” Shea said.
Cpl. Michael Pursel was 19 when he died, the youngest of the six soldiers killed when the homemade bomb exploded near their vehicle.
Pursel moved to Lacey in 1998, when his father was reassigned from Germany to Fort Lewis. His mother, Terry Dutcher, is a captain in the Air Force Reserve who lives in Hooper, Utah.
Dutcher was not immediately available for comment May 10. A woman answering Dutcher’s cell phone and who identified herself as Pursel’s grandmother said joining the military was his dream.
“Michael’s wanted to join the Army since he was 2 years old,” she said. “As soon as he got out of high school he joined.”
Pursel enlisted in April of last year. He’d been in Iraq just over a month when he died.
“Michael was doing what he always wanted to do,” Dutcher told The Olympian newspaper of Olympia. “In light of how it turned out, I know Michael was happy. I just take peace in that right now.”