(Host) Vermonters are mourning the deaths of two members of the National Guard who were killed this week in Iraq. Six other members of their unit were injured in the surprise attack, but officials say they’re expected to recover.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports from Camp Johnson in Colchester.
(Kinzel) Vermont National Guard Major General Martha Rainville says the soldiers were attached to a battalion that was providing security for military and civilian operations. There are roughly 200 Vermont Guard members serving in this capacity in Iraq.
The Vermont unit was providing security for a group of Army soldiers who were completing an interrogation of a detainee when they were struck by a surprise mortar attack. It was an attack Rainville says was launched between a half-mile and four miles away:
(Rainville) “At the time of the attack, as far as we can tell, they were waiting to escort the detail back to their base and were hit with a barrage of mortars. This is basically an ambush, there was no way that they could predict this was going to happen. But they were in that spot where the mortars hit.”
(Kinzel) The two Guard members who were killed are 36-year old Sergeant Kevin Sheehan and 22-year old Specialist Alan Bean. General Rainville says the two deaths are the first Vermont Guard fatalities in action in the last 50 years:
(Rainville) “The very thing that makes us strong – and that’s working together for a long time, having units that train and work together, or from the same towns – also make it very, very difficult at a time like this. When we have a squad of our Guardsmen hit, it really brings it home much more directly and in a more concentrated way. These are all Vermonters. Their families are all part of us and part of our communities.”
(Kinzel) Three of the six members of the Vermont group who were injured in the attack were treated at a nearby military facility and released back to their unit. They are Specialist Barry Caddorette, Specialist Michael Shepard and Sergeant Nathaniel Prindall.
Three Guard members suffered serious injuries and were air-lifted to a military hospital in Germany. They are Sergeant Matthew Bedia, Staff Sergeant Gary Jackson and Specialist Thomas Brooks. General Rainville says the outlook for these soldiers is good:
(Rainville) “While a couple of the injuries were considered serious, at this time we’re all very optimistic. They’ve all spoken with their families and while there may be a longer path to recovery and some challenging times ahead for them, we are anticipating them doing very well and recovered from their wounds.”
(Kinzel) The Vermont Guard is deploying eight more soldiers for service in Iraq. The soldiers, who are based with a unit in Northfield, will leave for additional training at Fort Dix, New Jersey and Fort Drum, New York on Thursday morning.
General Rainville says it will be at least six months before these Guard members are actually sent to Iraq and they could serve as long as a year and half as part of their tour of duty.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel.