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Army Spc. Robert M. Rieckhoff

Died March 18, 2010 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom

26, of Kenosha, Wis.; assigned to 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y.; died March 18 in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with rocket-propelled grenade fire.

Kenosha soldier killed in grenade attack in Iraq

By Dinesh Ramde

The Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — A Kenosha soldier was killed in Iraq after a rocket-propelled grenade hit the watchtower where he was on guard duty, the soldier’s family said Saturday.

Military officials told relatives that Army Spc. Robert Rieckhoff, 26, died Thursday in Baghdad, his family said. The Defense Department hasn’t officially confirmed the death.

“They told us it happened at 9:11 (a.m.) local time,” his grandmother, Judith Nelsen, told The Associated Press. “Of all the times, it was 9:11.”

Rieckhoff, who has an 8-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter, recently re-enlisted as part of Battery Bravo Second Battalion of the 15th Field Artillery Unit out of New York. He began talking about joining the military in high school, said his mother, Barbara Garwood of Kenosha.

“I told him whatever he decided, I was behind him 100 percent,” she said.

Rieckhoff graduated from Tremper High School in 2002 and served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Kuwait.

He knew how much his family worried so he e-mailed them almost every day to let them know he was safe, his grandmother said. The morning he died, Nelsen asked Garwood whether she checked for an e-mail that day.

“She said she’d check as soon as she finished her coffee,” Nelsen said. “Before she finished, there was the military at the back door.”

Nelsen paused, then added, “She didn’t get the e-mail that day.”

Rieckhoff wasn’t rich, but he was more interested in spending his military salary on his family than on himself, his mother said. One of the last gifts he gave her was an expensive Christmas tree, she said.

“Another time he took me to a local casino,” Garwood said, chuckling softly. “He said he learned his lesson, that he’s never going to do that again.”

His grandmother said she cherishes a costly decoration he gave her, a snowman that plays music.

“I cried and his mother cried,” she said, her voice cracking. “He said, ‘God, guys, it’s just a snowman.’ I said, ‘Robert, this costs too much.’ He said, ‘Grandma, these are the things I always wanted to buy for you, but I never had the money.’ That’s the kind of person he was. He’d give you the shirt off his back, the last dollar to his name.”

It was hard not to worry about him, even with his regular e-mails, his family said. When he decided to re-enlist it was because he wanted to make sure his kids had health benefits and access to good education, Nelsen said, but he still called his relatives to get their opinions.

“He called and said, ‘What do you think?’” his grandmother said. “I said, ‘Son, do whatever you want to do.’ He said, ‘I want you to be proud.’ We said, ‘We are proud, pal, we couldn’t be more proud.’“

Rieckhoff died one day before the seventh anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He was the 92nd Wisconsin resident to die in the conflict, according to an AP count. Twelve others have died in Afghanistan since 2004.

His grandmother said Americans shouldn’t be dying over there, and the U.S. should bring its troops home now.

“If [Iraqis] want to fight, let them fight amongst themselves,” Nelsen said. “Our boys go over there and lose their lives. I think they should bring those boys home. All of them.”

Soldier ‘became such a man’ in the Army

The Associated Press

Robert M. Rieckhoff will always be “Bubba,” the guy who constantly got into his grandmother’s cupboards as a boy and joined the Army when he grew up to avoid getting into more serious trouble with friends.

“He said, ‘Grandma, I know if I wouldn’t have joined, I would have been right down the tubes with them,’” Judith Nelsen said of her grandson. “But it made such a man of him.”

The 26-year-old from Kenosha, Wis., died March 18 in Baghdad after his unit was attacked during his third tour. He was assigned to Fort Drum.

Rieckhoff joined the Army Reserve in 2002 after graduating from Tremper High School in Kenosha. He worked at a pizza restaurant before signing on with the Army as a potential career.

He wanted others to be proud of him and tried to share his good fortune with his family, taking relatives out to dinner when he was home on leave in January, said his mother, Barbara Garwood.

Comrades described Rieckhoff as persevering and charming, and an uncle said he was “strong as an ox.”

Survivors include his father, Scott Rieckhoff; children, Tyler and Katrina; four sisters; and two brothers.

Flags lowered in memory of Rieckhoff

The Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Jim Doyle has ordered that United States and Wisconsin flags fly at half-staff March 29 to honor a Kenosha soldier who was killed in Iraq.

The executive order applies to all buildings, grounds and military facilities.

The family of 26-year-old Army Spc. Robert Rieckhoff says he died March 18 in Baghdad after a rocket-propelled grenade hit the watchtower where he was on guard duty.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports Rieckhoff recently re-enlisted with the 15th Field Artillery Unit out of New York.

He served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Kuwait after he graduated from Tremper High School in 2002.

Friends, family say final goodbyes to fallen soldier

The Associated Press

KENOSHA, Wis. — Friends and family have said goodbye to a Kenosha soldier who was remembered for making “the ultimate sacrifice.”

A funeral was held March 29 for 26-year-old Army Spc. Robert Rieckhoff in his hometown. He was killed March 18 in Iraq after a rocket-propelled grenade struck a watchtower where he stood guard.

A U.S. flag lay folded near Rieckhoff’s head as family members reached in to his silver casket to touch his body one last time.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Bannister says Rieckhoff “paid the ultimate sacrifice, and we’re here to honor him today.”

Rieckhoff had recently re-enlisted. He graduated from Tremper High School in 2002 and served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Kuwait.

Survivors include an 8-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.

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