Our Toll Reaches 100

That's the total of soldiers with Washington state connections killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In strictly numerical terms, Army Spc. Glenn J. Watkins, 42, of Tacoma, killed April 5 by a roadside bomb in Baghdad, was the 1,543rd U.S. service member to die in Iraq and the 100th with Washington state connections to die in the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. His death pushed to 40 the number of widows (and one widower) and to 60 the number of children left behind by state-connected personnel killed in the wars. As of this week, almost 1,550 U.S. personnel have died in Iraq. Counting the 150-plus dead of Afghanistan and the Philippines, where this state has lost nine fighters, more than 1,700 American military personnel have died in the Southwest Asia war zone during combat and noncombat incidents since October 2001.

But in human terms, Watkins died doing what he thought best, said his widow, Anne, mother of four children. Watkins was in Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry from Kent—part of the Washington National Guard's 81st Brigade—and was scheduled to return stateside. Like 70 others from his brigade, he volunteered for another six months in Iraq, joining up with some California buddies from the 184th Infantry. "He loved that unit," said Anne. He called her a few days before his death and said, "I'm back with my boys!"

A true believer, as well, was the 99th state-related fighter to die, Army Staff Sgt. Stephen C. Kennedy, 35. A Bremerton High School graduate, he was killed April 4 in an ambush south of Balad Ruz, Iraq. He joined the Marines after high school and served in Gulf War I. Kennedy loved his military job, said his widow, Tiffany. She said he believed that going to Iraq "and doing what he was doing was right, because it was for his family and it was for his country. That's what I want everybody to know."

The 98th to die, from small arms fire April 2 in Mosul, was Army Staff Sgt. Ioasa F. Tava'e Jr., 29, of Pago Pago, American Samoa. He was an infantry sergeant in Fort Lewis' 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. Remembrances of Tava'e quickly filled the Fort Lewis Stryker Web site, including one that noted, "We all prayed that after the death of Sgt T. Time and SSG S. Tuialuuluu that we would lose no more Samoans to this war, but the Lord had different plans for us and you. . . . " Tava'e was the 52nd Fort Lewis soldier to die in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

Army Sgt. Kenneth Levi Ridgley, 30, of Steilacoom, Pierce County, was the 97th to die. He succumbed March 30 in Mosul, Iraq, from injuries sustained by automatic weapons fire. A member of the Fort Lewis Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Ridgley was originally from Olney, Ill. He married his wife, Charity, in Lakewood, Pierce County, last year and was living in Steilacoom. He was planning to adopt Charity's son from an earlier marriage. Ridgley was on his second tour of Iraq when he was killed. "I said, 'Levi, get out of that place,'" Olney city official Tom Totten recalled telling him before he returned. "I need to go back," Totten says Ridgley responded. "It's just something I need to do."

The first state-connected solider to die, on Dec. 5, 2001, in Afghanistan, was Army Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser, 28, whose mother lives in Seattle. Prosser was one of three Special Forces soldiers killed by friendly fire when an errant 2,000-pound bomb missed its target. He was with the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Army Sgt. Nathan Chapman, 31, of Puyallup, was killed Jan. 4, 2002, becoming the first to die in combat during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Army Spc. Pat Tillman, 27, a Fort Lewis Ranger and former NFL star whose family lived in University Place near Tacoma, was reported killed April 22, 2004, in an ambush by Afghan militiamen in the mountainous Pakistan border region. In December 2004, the Army admitted that Tillman was, in fact, killed by friendly fire.

randerson@seattleweekly.com

 
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