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While senators spin their wheels, the 'surge' claims Fort Carson soldiers

click to enlarge Soldiers lining up at a memorial for two Fort Carson - comrades last week. At least seven more Carson soldiers - are being memorialized this week. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Soldiers lining up at a memorial for two Fort Carson comrades last week. At least seven more Carson soldiers are being memorialized this week.

The somber notes of "Taps" rise from a lonely bugle in the hot, dry air outside Fort Carson's chapel.

Inside, two families, friends and soldiers fill the pews, listening quietly amid muffled weeping.

An M-16 machine gun, helmet, metal identification tags and desert-combat boots are on display for Sgt. Eric Snell, who in a photograph wears camouflage and a serious expression. So does Pfc. Jerimiah Veitch, who is also being remembered.

About six weeks into the military's 30,000-troop offensive in Iraq known as the "surge," such solemn scenes are already old news. These services happened last week; two more of the post's soldiers would be memorialized at the chapel by Tuesday, and five more are scheduled for later this week. More than 3,600 troops have lost their lives since the Iraq war began in 2003, and 217 of those have come from Fort Carson.

More than a third of the 35 killed this year lost their lives after the surge began in June, though none were specifically deployed for the surge.

Debate over whether to pull troops out of Iraq has raged throughout the country. In a teleconference last week, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., a proponent of withdrawal, defended his position as being for the troops.

"I would say that they need to have a policy that's worthy of their bravery," Salazar said. "We know how much they sacrifice."

The surge, he said, isn't working.

"From all of the measurements that I have seen in respect to the surge in Iraq, it is not accomplishing its intended purposes," Salazar said.

"If you look, first of all, at the violence that's being perpetrated against American troops: We have now had three months in a row where we've had over 100 casualties in Iraq of American men and women in uniform. The number of wounded military service members has increased as well. The level of violence on the ground is up."

Eye of the beholder

Last week, a CBS News/New York Times poll found that 61 percent of U.S. adults want a timetable for withdrawal. At the same time, the Senate pulled a failed all-night session in hopes of forcing an "up-or-down" vote on an amendment to the 2008 defense authorization calling on President Bush to remove troops from Iraq by next spring.

People have clearly staked their positions, yet it's hard for anyone to know for sure what is really happening in Iraq.

For example, Joseph A. Christoff, director of international affairs and trade, told a House committee last week that security in Iraq is ailing and, in turn, a lack of security is hurting the flow of the country's oil, which is critical to lasting stability. Meanwhile, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, a spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq, said various surge operations were successful in turning Iraqis "away from the terrorists."

With such military boasting, Wayne Allard, Colorado's other senator and a Republican supporter of President's Bush's "stay the course" mantra, won't entertain talk of timelines for withdrawal.

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"I think that we're making progress in Iraq," Allard said, citing the capture in Iraq of Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who U.S. commanders have linked to al-Qaeda.

Allard said the surge simply hasn't been given enough time. He blasted colleagues like Salazar for pushing to legislate a timeline.

"It's another example of where the Congress tries to meddle in the commanders' decision-making on the field," Allard said, alluding to a report by military commanders in September that will provide an update on progress.

But Salazar said the verdict already is in. He cited the Iraq Study Group, led by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, which late last year concluded that conditions in Iraq were already "grave and deteriorating."

"I think that seven months later, conditions continue to be further deteriorating," Salazar said, calling for a shift to international diplomacy in the Middle East.

"Irreplaceable'

Family members for both Snell and Veitch declined to speak to media at the memorial last week.

However, Sgt. Daniel Salazar who is of no relation to the senator praised his friend, Veitch, 21, of Dibble, Okla. Veitch was killed when his vehicle was struck with a rocket-propelled grenade in Baghdad.

"When it came down to it, he was the guy that I always chose to have by my side," Salazar, a squad leader, said. "Whenever we rolled out, whenever we did anything, I always made sure he was next to me."

Staff Sgt. Kevin Bailey spoke about his close friend, Snell, a 35-year-old sergeant and father of two from Trenton, N.J.

Bailey called Snell a "great, great man," a "big brother to all" and a "go-to-guy."

Bailey was only at Fort Carson for the memorial because he had been injured by small-arms fire a day before Snell was killed June 18 by small-arms fire in Balad, Iraq.

Bailey said he was hospitalized in Germany when he received word of Snell's death. Bailey, who said he's deployed to Iraq three times, declined to comment when asked whether fighting today is worse than in prior years.

However, he touched on the growing human toll.

"I've lost quite a few guys," he said. "To name them all would be almost impossible. But Sgt. Snell right now is going to be irreplaceable for everybody."

deyoanna@csindy.com

click to enlarge A soldier stands before displays for Sgt. Eric Snell (left) - and Pfc. Jerimiah Veitch. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • A soldier stands before displays for Sgt. Eric Snell (left) and Pfc. Jerimiah Veitch.

Roll call

About 4,400 of Fort Carson's soldiers are among the 155,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The following have been killed in the line of duty since the offensive thrust of the surge began in June.

Pfc. Justin A. Verdeja, 20, of La Puente, Calif., died June 5 in Baghdad of wounds suffered when his unit was attacked by insurgents using small-arms fire. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

Sgt. Eric L. Snell, 35, of Trenton, N.J., died June 18 in Balad of wounds suffered when his unit came in contact with insurgents using small-arms fire in Baghdad. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

Pfc. Jerimiah J. Veitch, 21, of Dibble, Okla., died June 21 in Baghdad of wounds suffered when his vehicle was struck with a rocket-propelled grenade. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

Sgt. William E. Brown, 25, of Phil Campbell, Ala., died June 23 in Taji of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with indirect fire. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division.

Five soldiers died June 28 of wounds sustained when their unit was attacked in Baghdad by insurgents using improvised explosive devices. They were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

Killed were:

Sgt. Shin W. Kim, 23, of Fullerton, Calif.

Sgt. Michael J. Martinez, 24, of Chula Vista, Calif.

Sgt. Giann C. Joya Mendoza, 27, of North Hollywood, Calif.

Spc. Dustin L. Workman II, 19, of Greenwood, Neb.

Pfc. Cory F. Hiltz, 20, of La Verne, Calif.

Staff Sgt. Robb L. Rolfing, 29, of Milton, Mass., died June 30 in Baghdad of wounds sustained from enemy small arms fire. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

Pfc. Steven A. Davis, 23, of Woodbridge, Va., died July 4 in Baghdad of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with grenades. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

Sgt. Eric A. Lill, 28, of Chicago, died July 6 in Rustamiyah of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle during combat operations in Baghdad. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

Pfc. Christopher D. Kube, 18, of Sterling Heights, Mich., died July 14 in Baghdad of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

Source: U.S. Defense Department

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