7 U.S. Victims of Ambush in Iraq Are From Fort Drum

By  | 

The seven American victims of a weekend ambush in Iraq were members of the storied 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Army officials in Iraq said Tuesday.

The attack near Mahmoudiya, in a Sunni stronghold 20 miles south of Baghdad, left four U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi translator dead, and three other soldiers missing. The Pentagon has acknowledged that it believes the missing soldiers are in terrorist hands.

The Islamic State of Iraq - an al-Qaida front group that has claimed to have captured the soldiers - has warned the U.S. to stop its intensive search for the missing. More than 4,000 U.S. troops searched again for the missing soldiers Tuesday while U.S. aircraft dropped leaflets seeking information about them.

"It's been the unfortunate experience that soldiers who have been captured have not all turned out well. We are hoping this turns out to be an exception," said Fort Drum spokesman Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick.

The 10th Mountain Division has a reputation for success that dates to World War II. Ready to go anywhere in the world within 48 hours, the 10th Mountain is trained to fight in steamy jungles, sandy deserts, cities and, of course, mountains. Fitzpatrick said the soldiers were from Company D, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment - nicknamed the "Polar Bears."

The Pentagon confirmed the dead as Sgt. 1st Class James D. Connell Jr., 40, of Lake City, Tenn.; Pfc. Daniel W. Courneya, 19, of Nashville, Mich.; and Pfc. Christopher E. Murphy, 21, of Lynchburg, Va.

The four other soldiers are Sgt. Anthony J. Schober, 23, of Reno, Nev.; Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.; Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif.; and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich. The Pentagon said one of those four was among the dead, but it could not confirm which one.

Military officials notified Anzack's family Sunday that he was missing.

"We're praying that he's alive," his aunt Debbie Anzack said. The military told the family that DNA test results were expected as early as Wednesday.

Nevada National Guard officials met with Schober's mother and stepfather Tuesday but did not release their names.

"They're absolutely filled with hope that he's still alive," Guard spokesman Eric Ritter told The Associated Press.

"They said as a kid he was very good at hiding, and they hope he's still good at hiding," Ritter added.

Connell's family learned of his death Saturday afternoon, relatives said.

The soldier had just recovered from a shrapnel wound to the leg and had visited his family on leave this month. The family is now planning a memorial service in Lake City and a burial at Arlington National Cemetery, according to his brother, Jeff Connell.

"I'm proud of my dad, because he didn't really fight for himself, he fought for the country," Connell's teenage daughter, Courtney, told Knoxville's WATE-TV.

In Michigan, students at Maple Valley High School created a memorial for Courneya, who graduated in 2005 and was well-known in the small community southwest of Lansing. He was a member of the school's track and soccer teams and played clarinet in the band. The school also held a moment of silence, school official Kelly Zank said.

Courneya's mother, Wendy Thompson, said his wife, Jennifer, called family members Saturday night to tell them he had been killed. Thompson said her husband, Army Spc. David Thompson, was in Iraq and returning home after learning of his stepson's death.

If all three soldiers now missing were taken alive, it would be the biggest single abduction of U.S. soldiers in Iraq since March 23, 2003, when Pvt. Jessica Lynch and six others were captured in an ambush near Nasiriyah that also left 11 Americans dead.

The 2nd Brigade Combat Team is in the 10th month of a 15-month tour in Iraq. The brigade was also deployed to Iraq in 2005.

The 10th Mountain Division made its reputation in World War II, when soldiers scaled a sheer, 1,500-foot cliff under cover of darkness and fought their way through the snowy mountains of northern Italy in 1945. That spearheaded the drive that would liberate the country from the Nazis.

The division was the Army's most frequently deployed division during the 1990s, serving in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere. One of its most famous exploits, the daring rescue of ambushed Army Rangers in 1993 Mogadishu, was chronicled in the best-selling book and movie "Black Hawk Down."

The division's members became the first regular U.S. ground troops to be sent to Central Asia as part of American's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Its soldiers provided security for U.S. Air Force fighter and combat search-and-rescue teams in Uzbekistan.

At Fort Drum, some were frustrated as they waited for news.

"Everyone here is concerned," said Sgt. Bryan Flinner, a six-year veteran who returned home early from deployment to Afghanistan because of a head injury. "Even if you don't know a soldier personally, there's always a connection because of what we do. It's frustrating but there's nothing we can do back here."
Associated Press writers Martin Griffith in Reno and Jeremiah
Marquez in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)