By John Rutherford, NBC News producer, Washington
Three civilian contractors, among 11 Americans killed last week in Iraq, died Dec. 9 when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb southeast of Baghdad. A fourth contractor, badly injured, was expected to survive.
"I don't know, I guess it just wasn't his time to go," Christine Johnson said of her injured husband, Billy, according to the Milford (Mass.) Daily News.
All four men were military veterans who willingly took on the dangerous assignment of providing security for contractors who search for and destroy old Iraqi munitions stockpiles.
"It's just in their blood," Christine Johnson told the Daily News. "It's part of them, but I think he [her husband] is done now."
There are 180,000 civilian contractors in Iraq. They come from all over the world and easily outnumber the 166,000 U.S. troops in that country. Some of the contractors have dangerous jobs but most are non-Americans who carry out support duties once performed by the military, such as dish washing, trash pickup, and laundry. At least 1,078 contractors have died in the war, according to the Associated Press.
The dead contractors are the first three of last week's 15 casualties to be listed below:
1. Michael Doheny, 35, of Omaha, Neb., an avid baseball fan, graduated from high school in Broken Bow, Neb., and served eight years in the Marines before going into private security. Doheny was on his third tour as a civilian contractor in Iraq. "He loved his job in Iraq, and he loved being over there," his wife of six years, Melissa, told the Associated Press. Doheny's body was escorted back to Nebraska by his brother, a Marine serving in Iraq.
2. Micah Shaw, 32, of Vancouver, Wash., served five years as a Navy medic. "I always thought of my husband as being invincible and indestructible," his wife, Elena, told the Columbian newspaper. "He had the heart of a warrior." Shaw was in Iraq trying to save up enough money to take a safer job back in the states, perhaps in law enforcement. Besides Elena, Shaw is survived by their daughters, Emily, 8, and Lilly, 2, and son, Casey, 5.
3. Steven Evrard, 36, of Arlington, Texas, served as a police officer in Big Spring, Texas, from 2001 to 2006. "He was a very good officer, a real go-getter," a Big Spring police officer told the Big Spring Herald. Evrard, Doney, and Shaw worked for SOC-SMG Inc., a security company in Nevada that was a subcontractor for a New Jersey firm, Tetra Tech EC Inc. Evrard was on his second tour in Iraq. He is survived by his widow, Tanya.
4. Army Spc. Randy Pickering, 31, of Bovey, Minn., died Dec. 9 in a non-combat incident in Baghdad. His death was under investigation. He was remembered as a talented artist who led a hard life. "Randy didn't really have any family," a posting on megatokyo.com said. "His friends and the art community were all he really had." Pickering was well-known online and had a Live Journal account. "He was a very skilled storyteller and comic artist," another posting said.
5. Army Cpl. Tanner O'Leary, 23, of Eagle Butte, S.D., a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, grew up on his family's ranch with his mother and sister. He loved to crack jokes, work outside, and spend time with the people he loved, especially his 4-year-old daughter, Alexis. "Pretty easy-going, happy-go-lucky kid," his cousin told keloland.com. O'Leary, with the 82nd Airborne Division, was killed Dec. 9 by a roadside bomb in Musa Qal'eh, Afghanistan.
6. Army Spc. Johnathan Lahmann, 21, of Richmond, Ind., used to mow his next-door neighbor's lawn. "Very polite kid, good manners," the neighbor told the Indianapolis Star. Lahmann studied auto repair and planned to become a mechanic. He had been in Iraq for only a few weeks with the 36th Engineer Brigade when he died Dec. 10 of wounds suffered in a roadside bombing in Bayji, Iraq. "That hurts," his neighbor told the Star. "He was a great kid."
7. Navy Chief Petty Officer Mark Carter, 27, liked skateboarding, paint ball, and rock climbing growing up in Fallbrook, Calif. "He was a bit of a thrill-seeker," a family friend told the Virginian-Pilot. Carter became a Navy SEAL after graduating from high school in 1998. "That's all he ever wanted to do," a friend told the North County Times. Carter was killed Dec. 11 during combat operations in Iraq. He was the 400th Iraq casualty to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
8. Army Staff Sgt. Gregory Elam, 39, of Columbus, Ga., recently returned to active duty from the reserves. "He decided he wanted to come back in and take care of soldiers," an Army colleague said. Elam was in charge of a team of mortuary affairs specialists for the 101st Airborne Division when he died Dec. 11 of an undisclosed illness in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He is survived by his widow, Evangelist Angela Elam, and daughters, Jamieliah, 15, and Imani, 8.
9. Army Cpl. Joshua Blaney, 25, of Matthews, N.C., received a Purple Heart four years ago for injuries suffered in a roadside bombing in Iraq. He was in the lead vehicle of a convoy when the bomb exploded, wounding him in the leg. On Dec. 12, he was again in the lead vehicle of a convoy, this time in eastern Afghanistan, when a roadside bomb detonated, destroying his truck. Blaney, with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, died of his wounds at Forward Operating Base Curry.
10. Army Staff Sgt. Michael Gabel, 30, of Crowley, La., was quoted in the New York Times four years ago as saying, "Some guys here say, 'We've got to the place that we've been waiting for all our lives.' They love it. Other guys think it's like sitting at a PlayStation playing war, only for real. But the thing about a PlayStation is, when you die, you can hit the reset button." Gabel died of wounds suffered in the same bomb blast that killed Cpl. Blaney.
11. Army Spc. Brynn Naylor, 21, of Roswell, N.M., was a talented tennis player who turned down college scholarship offers to enlist in the Army. "I just think that it was one of those things he wanted to do, to serve his country," a family friend told the Colorado Springs Gazette. Naylor, who turned 21 on Dec. 2, was killed Dec. 13 by small arms fire in Baghdad. He was due home Dec. 27 after a 15-month tour in Iraq with the 2nd Infantry Division.
12. Army Sgt. Samuel Kelsey, 24, of Troup, Texas, was the only child of Denina Kelsey. "He was my life, my breath," she told the Tyler Morning Telegraph. "Everything I did in my life I did for my child." Kelsey was home on leave in September. "I didn't want him to go back," his mother told KLTV, "but he told me, 'I'll be all right, Momma,' and promised me he would come home." Kelsey was killed Dec. 13 by a roadside bomb in Tunnis, Iraq. He was with the 3rd Infantry Division.
13. Army Pvt. Daren Smith, 19, of Helena, Mont., graduated from high school in 2006 and studied computers for one semester at the University of Montana-Helena College of Technology. He enlisted in March. A cavalry scout with the 10th Mountain Division, Smith died Dec. 13 in Baghdad of wounds suffered in a non-combat incident. His death was under investigation. Smith was the sixth service member from Helena and the 22nd from Montana to die in Iraq.
14. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Lowery, 38, liked to hunt and fish while growing up in Houlton, Maine, pop. 6,500. A former drill sergeant, he spent 19 years in the Army and was on his second tour in Iraq. "He was very well versed in combat," his brother told the Boston Globe. "He was a commanding presence." Lowery, with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, was killed Dec. 14 by small arms fire in Mosul, Iraq. He is survived by two sons, ages 8 and 11.
15. Army Sgt. Austin Pratt, 22, of Cadet, Mo., one of eight children, was a good baseball prospect. "My dream, of course, was that he'd pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals," his brother told KSDK. Pratt, with the 10th Mountain Division, died Dec. 15 in Balad, Iraq, in a non-combat incident. His family was assured he did not take his own life, KSDK reported. Pratt, who had his tour extended just before his scheduled discharge, would have turned 23 on Dec. 19.
Washington Producer John Rutherford is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He posts a weekly tribute to service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan