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Troops' deaths hit home

When Mayor John Stromberg heard that two Oregon National Guard soldiers had been killed and another wounded on Friday in Iraq, he was shaken up by the news.

It was a taste, perhaps, of the worry that families of troops — including those in Ashland — experience when they track news about the conflict Iraq.

"Did you see the news this morning?" Stromberg said Friday when passing a reporter on Winburn Way. "Two of our soldiers were killed in Iraq."

Ever since he spoke at a deployment ceremony in May, the mayor has been keeping in touch with the local National Guard troops stationed in Iraq, who form the 1st Battalion of the 186th Infantry. The battalion has 561 troops and other personnel from Southern Oregon, of whom 51 were based at the Headquarters Company in Ashland.

None of the troops in the local battalion were killed or injured in Friday's attack, said Capt. Karl Haeckler, a leader of the battalion who is stationed in Ashland.

Spc. Taylor D. Marks, 19, of Monmouth, and Sgt. Earl D. Werner, 38, of Amboy, Wash., died in Rashid, Iraq, when their convoy was struck by a copper-plated projectile, the Associated Press reported Saturday.

The name of a third soldier wounded in the attack was not released by National Guard officials.

Haeckler said he couldn't comment on whether the local battalion was working closely with the troops that were killed. In dispatches earlier this month Capt. Chris Markesino, who is commanding a group in Iraq that includes the 186th Infantry, said his troops were stationed in Tallil, Iraq.

When a National Guard soldier is killed, typically the next of kin is notified and then a notice goes out via a phone tree to other families of soldiers, telling them, "It was not your soldier or it wasn't a solder at all from your battalion," Haeckler said.

That typically happens before the news is released to the media, he said.

"We don't want any family members to worry needlessly," Haeckler said. "It's worrisome enough."

That process was followed "in short order" after the deaths on Friday as far as Haeckler was aware, he said.

Because many soldiers in Iraq have cell phones, phone communication is sometimes shut down during combat, in order to ensure that in the event of a death, the next of kin is notified in person, the army's standard process, Haeckler said.

If family members hear worrying news, they can call a direct National Guard line to get information on their soldiers, he said.

"At least they could determine if this was somebody in the unit or one of their loved ones," Haeckler said.

While family members are relieved to know that their soldier wasn't injured or killed, the news that someone's family member was involved still hits hard and often stays with them, he said.

"Obviously there's a sense of relief but it's never a positive thing when a solder is wounded or killed," he said.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.