Michael Rojas played football in high school. Wade Oglesby lived a life of hard knocks.
Both found their calling in the Army when they enlisted a month apart in 2004.
The two Fort Lewis soldiers, who shared the rank of corporal and specialty of artilleryman, died Wednesday in Taji, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle, the Pentagon announced Monday. It was the first combat deployment for both soldiers.
They are the 97th and 98th U.S. service members assigned to Fort Lewis killed in Iraq since March 2003, the post said. A memorial service will be held today.
Both soldiers were assigned to 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team).
Oglesby, 27, of Grand Junction, Colo., grew up without his father and was a father figure to his younger sister. He dropped out of high school as a sophomore to care for his dying mother, family members said. He earned his GED after his mother died of heart failure in September 2003.
He enlisted in the Army in August 2004 with his stepbrother, and family members said he blossomed “knowing he’d found his true calling in life.”
“He loved the opportunity his country bestowed upon him as he looked into the eyes of innocent children in Iraq,” his brother, Richard, and sister, Samantha, said in a prepared statement. “Wade was always willing to sacrifice his own life for others and he looked at his fellow soldiers in Iraq as a unity willing to give their lives for their beliefs right along with him.”
Rojas, 21, of Fresno, Calif, played two years of varsity football at Clovis East High School. He enlisted in the Army after graduation in July 2004, a month before Oglesby signed his contract.
“I got a letter from him recently saying he was in Baghdad, and it was dangerous,” David Esquivil, Rojas’ father, told the Fresno Bee. “He was looking forward to being back home, but was proud to be serving.”
Esquivil couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.
Nineteen soldiers from the brigade have been killed since it began its second deployment to Iraq last summer, a Fort Lewis spokesman said. The brigade lost 20 soldiers during its first deployment that started in the fall of 2003.
The brigade learned two weeks ago its tour will be extended three months until October. About 10,000 Fort Lewis soldiers deployed or headed to Iraq and Afghanistan are immediately affected by the new policy, aimed to ensure all soldiers receive a minimum of 12 months at home for rest and training before deploying again.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.