The e-mail arrived at Fort Lewis on Saturday afternoon, and the message was all too familiar. Stryker troops from the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment had been involved in a violent encounter in Afghanistan that day. One soldier was dead.
He was identified Monday as Spc. Kevin J. Graham of Benton, Ky. The 27-year-old infantryman was on his first overseas deployment.
But Graham’s identity was not shared in the e-mail sent to Fort Lewis families on Saturday. The details of his death, as in all messages of this kind, were scant: The soldier’s primary and secondary next of kin had been notified. The unit would hold a memorial service, with the time and place to be determined.
“Please remember to keep the soldiers of 1-17 IN and all other deployed soldiers in your thoughts and prayers,” Capt. Franky Kim, the battalion’s rear detachment commander, wrote at the end of the message. “Thank you for your continuous support.”
Graham was killed when a roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle in Kandahar. He enlisted in the Army in July 2007 and was assigned to Fort Lewis in December 2007.
Graham’s relatives in Benton — a town of about 4,400 people in western Kentucky — couldn’t be reached Monday. A relative told The News Tribune that Graham’s parents were returning Monday from Dover Air Force Base, Del., where Graham’s remains arrived stateside.
His death is the 16th for the Strykers of the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. And 10 of those deaths have fallen on a single battalion, the 1-17.
Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, only five other Fort Lewis Stryker battalions have lost 10 or more soldiers, and those were sustained over a full 12- or 15-month deployment. The 1-17 and its parent brigade have been deployed less than three months.
A battalion is the largest self-sufficient fighting force within a Stryker brigade. Led by a lieutenant colonel, each battalion is equipped with four companies and a total of about 500 soldiers.
Given the recent drop in violence in Iraq — where Fort Lewis’ other two Stryker brigades are serving — the toll of future attacks on Fort Lewis soldiers will likely continue to fall hardest on 5th Brigade and its three infantry battalions.
The brigade faces a difficult mission in the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban. Kandahar, like much of the country, was effectively conquered during the American-led invasion. But NATO, which has since taken over responsibility for international operations in Afghanistan, relied on local police and Afghan military units to keep the peace.
The Canadian military had a force of about 2,500 troops in Kandahar province, a force small enough to allow the Taliban to quietly regain large swaths of territory.
The 5th Brigade arrived in July to augment the Canadian force and to reclaim the lost territory.
1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment’s losses:
— Pfc. Jonathan Yanney and Spc. Troy Tom died Aug. 18 when a soldier stepped on a bomb as their unit was setting up camp. The soldiers had been involved in a firefight with Taliban insurgents earlier that day.
— Spc. Dennis Williams, Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Sawyer, Capt. Cory Jenkins and Capt. John Hallett died Aug. 25 when a roadside bomb detonated near their Stryker. The four were returning from a medical humanitarian mission to a village whose residents were suffering from a cholera outbreak.
— Spc. Jonathan Welch, Spc. Tyler Walshe-Vietti, Pfc. Jordan Brochu were killed in two separate bomb strikes during “Operation Opportunity Hold,” a multi-day operation to control part of the Arghandab Valley.
— Spc. Kevin Graham died Saturday when a roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle. No other details of the attack have been released.