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Natural soldier dies in Iraq

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POSTED: March 10, 2007 5:10 a.m.
Pvt. Kelly David Youngblood, 19, had one year and one month of military service under his belt when he died Sunday, just 16 days after arriving in Iraq for the start of his first combat tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Although his family had reservations about him being a soldier, he joined up anyway.
“I’ll do what I gotta do and I’ll be home,” Youngblood told his mother before he deployed. His mother feared for his life.
The Department of Defense announced the death of the 3rd Infantry Division soldier Thursday.
Youngblood, of Mesa, Ariz., died of wounds suffered from a sniper’s bullet while exiting his tank during combat operations in an area 76 miles west of volatile Baghdad. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team. Youngblood was assigned to Fort Stewart as a tanker in May. His battalion deployed with the 1BCT in January.
Youngblood’s death is the second for the Marne Division and for the battalion this year. Earlier this month Pvt. Matthew Zeimer, 18, was killed by small arms fire. Zeimer was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment as a Fire Support specialist.
According to Mesa, Ariz. news reports, Army officers hand-delivered Youngblood’s last letter to his sister, in which he called Ar Ramadi “terrorizing” and described the fear and horror he experienced.
“There are no phones where I’m at so I can’t call, and no Internet, so I can’t write,” Youngblood typed to his 16-year-old sister, Melaney, several days before his death. “I’m afraid to leave the building to go to the tank because there are snipers everywhere.”
On his first day at the combat outpost, he stepped outside to videotape an exchange of gunfire in the city. But he became more than a witness. A rocket blew the video camera from his hand, and killed his friend in the process, according to the report.
He wrote that two days later, a rocket-propelled grenade hit five feet from his tank. “But I had already loosened up by then. I don’t even get scared when I hear gunfire,” he wrote.
Youngblood moved to Mesa 11 years ago from La Porte, Ind., with his mother, Kristen Chacon, and sister, according to his stepfather, T.J. Chacon.
“He’d thought of going to film school and he’d thought of a career in the military,” his mother is quoted as saying. Youngblood had “always wanted to be in the Army, ever since he was a little kid,” his step-grandmother, Deanna Chacon, said. She noted he “always played Army and wore camouflage pants.”
Chacon said she tried to remain optimistic about her son’s deployment to Iraq until he told her about a narrow escape in a bombing that killed four soldiers a few days after he arrived. She said shrapnel missed him by eight feet.
“My first thought was that he was not going to make it,” Chacon said. “It was just too dangerous.”
His grandmother, Jean Herrold, said he wouldn’t give up on his dream of giving back to his country, despite her pleas.
“He just told me not to worry about him, that he loved everything about the military,” Herrold said. “I think he was born to be a soldier.”
Youngblood’s family said he thought about continuing to serve in the Army, where he drove a tank, after returning from Iraq.
“He liked the service, the discipline and camaraderie between his colleagues,” Herrold said.
“It’s like Armageddon there (Iraq),” Youngblood’s mother said. As debate about the war escalates, Chacon said people need to remember the soldiers who are out fighting and dying.
Meanwhile 3rd ID Commanding General Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch makes no bones about the violence.
“It is a more dangerous place today than it was when I was there,” he told news reporters last week.
Just before announcing the early deployment of more than 1,000 of his headquarters troops, Lynch pulled three photo cards from his top left pocket.
“I carry these around with me all the time,” he said. “These are the soldiers who have died since I took command of this division last summer,” he said.

 

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