(Host) Another Vermonter has died in Iraq. Thirty two year old Christopher Merchant of Hardwick died Wednesday near the city of Ramadi, seventy miles west of Baghdad.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports:
(Zind) Thursday afternoon, Adjutant General Martha Rainville stood before a group of reporters and guard members and announced the death of the tenth member of the Vermont Guard to be killed in Iraq since the war began.
(Rainville) “This morning I’m announcing the loss of a Green Mountain Boy, Specialist Christopher Merchant. He is survived by his wife, Monica, who lives in Hardwick, and by four children, ages 9, 10, 11 and 13, and by his parents.”
(Zind) Rainville says on Wednesday afternoon insurgents launched simultaneous attacks on an Iraqi police headquarters and a nearby military observation post outside of the Ramadi.
The attack lasted less than ten minutes and took four lives. Three of those killed were insurgents. The fourth was a Vermonter.
Merchant was in a Humvee when it was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. He was killed instantly.
Two members of the New Hampshire National Guard were also injured in the attack, one critically.
Merchant was a 1991 graduate of People’s Academy in Morrisville. He joined the Army after graduation. Last fall he rejoined the guard in order to serve in Iraq.
Army Guard Sergeant Leonard McLeon was a friend of Merchant’s. For several years the two worked together at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe.
(McLeon) “I used to harp on him a little bit about joining the guard because I knew his prior service, and he never did, but when the situation in Iraq arose he wanted to join to go over to serve. I was sitting in my office and I saw him come through to go the recruiters office. I said, oh my gosh, you’re here Chris’. He said, yea, I want to go over’.”
(Zind) McLeon remembers Merchant as a good cook and an avid sports enthusiast. He says the two engaged in a good natured baseball rivalry. Merchant was a Yankees fan and McLeon likes the Red Sox.
In a written statement, Merchant’s wife Monica described her husband as quote the type of father that tucked his children into bed every night, played basketball with his four children for countless hours, reminded them to say grace before dinner, encouraged education and volunteered to go to Iraq with the hope that he could make a difference so his son would not one day have to go to war.
Merchant worked briefly as a custodian at People’s Academy before shipping out.
In Iraq he distributed balls to children. The balls were sent to him by students at People’s.
Merchant was the sixth member of Task Force Saber to die in Iraq. Nearly four hundred soldiers from the Vermont Guard serve in the task force. They’re due to return home this summer.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.