- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 8, 2004

WINCHESTER, Va. (AP) — Families of a Virginia Army National Guard unit privately gathered yesterday to support and console one another after the deaths of two soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

An Afghan interpreter also was killed and a soldier was injured in the attack on Saturday in Ghazni province. The wounded soldier was treated and returned to duty.

“The soldiers, along with their Afghan interpreter, were conducting a security patrol in support of voter registration,” spokeswoman Master Sgt. Ann Bennett said.

Lt. Col. William Phillips in Staunton said he did not have the identities of the dead soldiers.

“The families are being notified, and a support group is working with families up at the armory,” Lt. Phillips said.

The soldiers’ names were not released yesterday because of a mandatory waiting period. The Virginia Army National Guard may not make the information public until 24 hours after the families have been notified, said Maj. Cotton Puryear, a spokesman for the unit.

In Winchester, the armory doors were closed to outsiders yesterday.

The 3rd battalion, which left Virginia about one month ago, includes nearly 600 soldiers.

“There are no words to express it,” Capt. James Tierney told the Roanoke Times, which has a reporter and photographer embedded with the 3rd. “We’ve lost two good friends.”

Lt. Col. Blake Ortner, the battalion’s commander, said the deaths shook their fellow soldiers.

“I don’t think there’s anything harder a leader has to deal with than the death of one of his soldiers,” Lt. Ortner said. “You spend a lot of time second-guessing yourself, whether there was anything you could have done to change the situation.

“This is something everyone recognizes as a possibility, and you hope against hope it won’t happen.”

It was not clear who carried out the bombing about 140 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul. But the site lies in territory near Pakistan, where suspected Taliban-led rebels regularly clash with U.S. and Afghan troops.

The deaths bring to 58 the number of American soldiers killed in action since U.S. forces entered Afghanistan in 2001 to drive the Taliban from power and attack its al Qaeda allies.

Staff writer Judith Person contributed to this report.

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