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Vilseck Community Honors Fallen Comrades
Vilseck Community Honors Fallen Comrades
 

Stars & Stripes

This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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February 1, 2005

[Have an opinion about the issues discussed in this article? Sound off in our Discussion Boards.]

By Rick Emert,
Stars and Stripes, European edition

(Joseph Giordono / S&S) An Iraqi man, his face wrapped in a kheffiyah to protect his identity, casts his ballot Sunday in Ramadi in Iraq's first free elections in decades. Insurgents in the city threatened to kill anyone who voted.
(Joseph Giordono / S&S) Pfc. Branden Bell of 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, looks around a corner with his sniper rifle after a roadside bomb destroyed a U.S. Humvee near a Ramadi, Iraq, polling center.
(Joseph Giordono / S&S) Pfc. Branden Bell of 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, looks around a corner with his sniper rifle after a roadside bomb destroyed a U.S. Humvee near a Ramadi, Iraq, polling center.
VILSECK, Germany — The Vilseck military community gathered Monday at the Vilseck Chapel to say farewell to six Task Force 2-2 Infantry soldiers who died in Iraq last week.

With many welcome home banners hung on fences along the post’s main road — for some soldiers who have returned and others that are expected to return in February — nearly 400 community members filled the chapel to honor their fallen comrades.

Staff Sgt. Joseph Stevens, Sgt. Javier Marin, Sgt. Michael Carlson, Spc. Jesus Leon-Perez and Spc. Viktar Yolkin died when the Bradley fighting vehicle in which they were riding rolled over into a canal in Khan Bani Saad, Iraq, on Jan. 24. All were members of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment.

Spc. Michael Luna died Jan. 27 in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, from noncombat related injuries. Luna was assigned to 1st Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment.

Capt. Jon Drake, now the rear detachment commander for 82nd Engineer Battalion, spoke about the five 2-2 Infantry soldiers whom he commanded while in Iraq last year.

Staff Sgt. Joseph Stevens


Stevens, 26, from Massachusetts, joined the Army in March 1998. He served as an infantry team leader, a Bradley fighting vehicle gunner and Bradley commander.

“His leadership style and charisma was unmatched,” Drake said. “(Stevens) was a wealth of information that even leaders and soldiers outside his company could turn to. (Stevens’) No. 1 priority, as it is with all great NCOs, was the welfare of his soldiers.”

Sgt. Javier Marin

Marin, 29, from Michigan and Texas, joined the Army in September 1999. He served as a rifleman, machine gunner, Bradley driver and infantry team leader.

“Sgt. Javier Marin was a true silent professional,” Drake said. “There were times when I had to order him to speak. Javier was always focused on his men and the mission.

“I was told that infantrymen can only be promoted by fellow infantrymen,” he said. “I was not one to cause a stir, so I asked Javier who he wanted to promote him. And with his typical grin, he said: ‘You sir.’ I will always remember that day.”

Sgt. Michael “Shrek” Carlson

Carlson, 22, grew up in St. Paul, Minn. He joined the Army in May 2001. He was a radio telephone operator, grenadier and machine gun operator.

“Sgt. Michael Carlson, also known as ‘Shrek,’ was the kind of guy that always brought humor into any situation,” Drake said. “Shrek would give you the shirt off his back if you were in need, as was the case in Buhriz during an insurgent uprising in June. After more than 24 hours of continuous combat operations, he was … relieving soldiers for much needed breaks.”

Spc. Jesus Leon-Perez

Perez, 20, was born in Mexico but grew up in Texas. He joined the Army in June 2003 and served as a Bradley driver.

“Jesus was young and it showed,” Drake said. “But that did not stop him from completing any mission. He demanded perfection from himself and his peers and stood proud when his superiors complimented their efforts ... ”

Spc. Viktar Yolkin

Yolkin, 24, was Ukrainian but grew up in Minsk, Belarus. He later lived in Spring Branch, Texas. He joined the Army in January 2003. He was a combat vehicle driver and rifleman.

“Viktar was very proud of his heritage and quick to correct you if you called him Russian,” Drake said. “Viktar was quiet and shy, but once he started talking about his family, he was bursting with pride and joy. He was the kind of soldier everyone wanted, quiet, did not complain, tough and carried out tasks with ease. Viktar, we miss you.”

Spc. Michael Luna

Luna, 26 was born in Oxnard, Calif. He joined the Army in February 1999. He was an M1 tank driver and loader.

“The people I have talked to commented on (Luna’s) lightheartedness and selflessness,” said Capt. James Marks, 2-2 Infantry. Marks read a letter from some of the soldiers who worked with Luna in Iraq. One of them was addressed to Luna’s wife, Stephanie, who was at the service Monday.

“The soldiers of this company share this pain with you.”

Finally, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Paul Kauffman, 2-2 Infantry and 3rd Brigade Combat Team chaplain, spoke about how the community could cope with the loss of the six soldiers.

“There is an old German saying that says the minute a man is born he begins to die,” Kauffman said. “We know that life is temporary, but when it comes to an end in large numbers like this ... at a time like this, the magnitude is too great. No one can be prepared for that, when we were so close to the end.”

He said the tears of grief, memories of the soldiers and faith could help the community with the tragedy.

“If you knew these soldiers, continue to tell your stories about them,” Kauffman said. “If you didn’t know them, listen to the stories.”

“People of faith know that neither insurgents, nor deep waters nor tragic accidents are the end of the story.”

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©2005 Stars & Stripes. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.
 
 



 



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