By John Rutherford, NBC News Producer, Washington
Army Staff Sgt. Sean Gaul was on his fifth combat tour. Sgt. Zachary McBride liked to read satire. Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Pionk was married with three small children. The three soldiers were among six members of the First Armored Division killed Jan. 9 when a bomb exploded inside a house in Sinsil, Iraq, north of Baghdad (the image below is what the aftermath of a bombing looks like).
"They entered that house totally convinced that they were just checking it out, cleaning it out," a relative of one of the men told the Kansas City Star. "And it was booby-trapped."
The six deaths underscore the continued vulnerability of U.S. troops to improvised explosive devices, which account for half of the American dead and wounded in Afghanistan and two-thirds of the casualties in Iraq.
"None of us is afraid of the firefights, the guns, and all that," Army First Lt. David Moore told the New York Times. "It is the deep-buried stuff that you can't see. I don't think we have lost anybody from our company in a firefight; we have only lost people from explosions."
Twelve of last week's 16 combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan were from explosive devices.
1. Army Spc. James Gudridge, 20, of Carthage, N.Y., enjoyed hunting, fishing, and camping. He enlisted while in high school and left for basic training after graduating in 2005. "He wanted to be in the action," his father told Newsday.com. A chemical operations specialist with the Third Infantry Division, Gudridge was killed Jan. 6 by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. "I asked them if it could be a mistake," his mother told WSYR, "and they said, 'No.'"
2. Army Pfc. Timothy Hanson, 23, of Kenosha, Wis., lost 35 pounds in four months to meet the Army's weight requirements. Deployed to Iraq with the Third Infantry Division, he took along his portable DVD player and most of the 300 DVDs in his movie collection. "He loved everything from foreign films to romantic comedies," his mother told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Hanson was shot and killed Jan. 7 while on guard duty in Salmon Pak, Iraq.
3. Army Sgt. James Healy, 25, of Hesperia, Calif., was responding to the discovery of a bomb in Laghar Juy, Afghanistan, when a second bomb exploded, fatally wounding him on Jan. 7. He was with the 703rd Explosive Ordinance Detachment. Healy is the third member of the Hesperia High School graduating class of 2000 to die in the Middle East conflicts. His widow, Shannon, also graduated from Hesperia in 2000. They have a 13-month-old son.
4. Army Maj. Michael Green, 36, of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, loved fishing on the Mississippi bayou, not far from where he trained troops for overseas duty. He had never been deployed himself until he went to Afghanistan about a month ago. "He felt like he was being slighted," his mother told the Mississippi Press. "He did not want to just send men out but wanted to serve beside them." Green, a Green Beret, died in the same bomb blast as Sgt. Healy.
The following three members of the 101st Airborne Division were killed Jan. 9 during combat operations in Samarra, Iraq. Their deaths were under investigation to determine whether they were killed by the enemy or "friendly fire" from U.S. troops.
5. Army Sgt. David Hart, 22, of Lake View Terrace, Calif., was remembered as "a wonderful young man" by the mother of a soldier who served in Iraq with him. The mother said in legacy.com that her son was "visibly shaken" by the news of Hart's death. "I'm also very shaken," she said. Hart, who joined the Army in November 2003, is survived by his widow, Nicole. Capitol flags in California were flown at half-staff on Jan. 11 in honor of Hart.
6. Army Pfc. Ivan Merlo, 19, of San Marcos, Calif., listed the following details about himself in MySpace: Status: Married. Orientation: Straight. Hometown: San Marcos. Body type: 5' 11". Ethnicity: Latino/Hispanic. Zodiac sign: Scorpio. Smoke/Drink: No/No. Education: High school. Occupation: Soldier. Income: $45,000 to $60,000. Merlo was due home later this month from a yearlong deployment in Iraq. He is survived by his widow, Nicole.
7. Army Pfc. Phillip Pannier, 20, of Washburn, Ill., was active in Future Farmers of America and 4-H and played high school football and soccer. He joined the Army after graduating in 2006. "This upset his mother and me, but that's what he wanted to do," his father told the Bloomington Pantagraph. Pannier hoped one day to become a police officer. "That's one of the reasons he picked the Army," his mother told the Pantagraph.
8. Army Sgt. David Drakulich, 22, of Reno, Nev., attended two semesters of junior college before enlisting in 2004. A member of the 82nd Airborne Division, he was on his third tour in Afghanistan when he was killed Jan. 9 by a roadside bomb in Chagali. "His death was very sudden," his father told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "He probably didn't know what hit him." Drakulich had planned to attend college when he came home in April.
The following six members of the First Armored Division were killed in that Jan. 9 explosion in Sinsil, Iraq.
9. Army Spc. Todd Davis, 22, of Raymore, Mo., almost attended the University of Oklahoma to study architecture. He was enrolled and his car was packed, but he decided at the last minute to join the Army, largely inspired by his late father, a Marine who served two tours in Vietnam. His father died a few years ago of a brain tumor. His mother has not been in contact with the family since Davis was a child. He and his brother lived with an aunt and uncle.
10. Army Staff Sgt. Jonathan Dozier, 30, of Chesapeake, Va., had ancestors who fought in the Civil War, both World Wars, and Desert Storm. Dozier joined the Army in 1997, left the service to attend college, and re-enlisted in 2005. Before deploying to Iraq, he asked his father, "Is it weird to really want to do this?" "No," his dad replied, according to dailypress.com. "This is what you're trained to do." Dozier is survived by his widow, Amy, and infant daughter, Emma.
11. Army Staff Sgt. Sean Gaul, 29, of Reno, Nev., enjoyed martial arts, scuba diving, and fly fishing. A triathlete, he enlisted in the Army in 1997 and deployed to Afghanistan soon after 9/11. Since then, Gaul served four more combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Sean loved his job, knowing the risks he re-enlisted during his fifth deployment," his wife, Jessica, said in a statement. "It seemed Sean was a lifer for sure." Besides Jessica, Gaul leaves behind their daughter.
12. Army Sgt. Zachary McBride, 20, of Bend, Ore., liked to read satire, history, and politics. "He read a lot, and he remembered, it seemed, everything he read," a friend told the Oregonian. "He had a wealth of useless and useful knowledge." An "A" high school student, McBride surprised his parents by enlisting in 2005. "It's just tragic," his pastor said of his death, according to the Bend Bulletin. "It's a loss that I don't think parents ever fully recover from."
13. Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Pionk, 30, of Superior, Wis., enlisted and married in the same year, 1998. He earned a Bronze Star during a previous tour in Iraq for helping an injured soldier. "His whole life was the military," his wife, Melanie, told the Superior Daily Telegram. Besides Melanie, Pionk is survived by Dillon, 8, Ashley, 6, and Brandon, 3. "He was a great dad and a great soldier," Melanie told the Daily Telegram. "That's about all I can tell you."
14. Army Sgt. Christopher Sanders, 22, of Roswell, N.M., was remembered as an active child by his mother. "Always getting into something, always on the move," she told the Las Cruces Sun-News. He graduated from the New Mexico Military Institute in 2003 and briefly attended Eastern New Mexico University before enlisting in 2004. On his second tour in Iraq, Sanders was due home in November. He leaves behind his widow, Dara, and a young son and daughter.
15. Army Lt. Col. Richard Berrettini, 52, of Wilcox, Pa., was a high school nurse who volunteered to serve in Afghanistan with the Army National Guard. Due home later this month, he was severely injured Jan. 2 by a roadside bomb in Khowst Province. He died Jan. 11 at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. He is survived by his widow, Jane, and sons Vincent, 26, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, and Christopher, 22, a West Point graduate.
16. Army Pfc. Keith Lloyd, 26, of Milwaukee held various retail jobs after graduating from high school. "He tried to find himself for a while," his father told the Associated Press. "But he wanted to get himself a career." Lloyd joined the Army last year as a food service specialist and apparently found his career. "He was already talking about reupping," his dad told AP. Lloyd, with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, was killed Jan. 12 by a roadside bomb in Tal Afar, Iraq.
17. Marine Lance Cpl. Curtis Christensen Jr., 29, of Collingswood, N.J., hiked 1,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail several years ago. "Whatever he got into, he would really get into," his mother told the Courier-Post. Before joining the Marines at age 28, he stopped smoking and drinking and joined a gym. "It was probably a good idea," his mom said, "since he was like the grandfather there." Christensen died Jan. 11 in a non-hostile incident in Iraq's Al Anbar Province.
Washington Producer John Rutherford is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He posts a weekly tribute to service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.