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Three soldiers from Fort Lewis die

Three more Fort Lewis soldiers have died in Iraq this week, the deadliest for soldiers deployed there from the Army post.

The Department of Defense announced Friday that Sgt. Maj. Bradly D. Conner, a Green Beret, died Wednesday, and Sgt. Jason W. Vaughn, a Stryker driver assigned to the same company that lost six soldiers earlier this week, was killed the following day. Pvt. Anthony J. Sausto was killed Thursday by small-arms fire in Baghdad, family members told The Press of Atlantic City (N.J.) on Friday.

The death toll since Sunday stands at nine. All of the soldiers except Sausto were killed by improvised explosive devices.

One hundred eight service members assigned to Fort Lewis have died in Iraq.

Conner, 41, who was born in Tacoma and raised in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, died when an IED detonated near the tracked armored fighting vehicle he was riding in near Al-Hillah, south of Baghdad, the Pentagon said. He is the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer assigned to Fort Lewis to be killed in Iraq.

Conner was assigned to C Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), which is stationed at Fort Lewis but takes its orders from U.S. Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Conner earned nearly 50 awards and decorations during his 20-year Army career, including three Bronze Star medals, six Army Commendation Medals and seven Army Achievement Medals.

“I think his achievements tell what he was,” his father, William Conner, said from his home in Coeur d’Alene, his voice breaking. “We’re very, very proud parents, and his siblings are very, very proud. Not only proud about him; we’re proud about all of our armed forces.”

Conner deployed to Iraq in March, his fourth deployment to the country since 2003, according to information on the command’s Web site.

Conner enlisted in the Army in 1987 and served in a number of assignments with the 10th Special Forces Group in Germany before assuming his last assignment as a company sergeant major with 1st Special Forces Group.

He is survived by his wife of nearly 18 years, Cynthia, and three children, who all live at Fort Lewis.

Vaughn, 29, of Iuka, Miss., was killed when an IED detonated near his vehicle in the Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.

He attended a junior college and Mississippi State University after graduating from high school in 1996, said his father, Walter. He decided to enlist in 2002 and was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division when he arrived at Fort Lewis in fall 2003.

He broke both feet on his last day of basic training and was injured during his first tour with the 3rd Brigade when debris from an explosion struck him in the back, his father said.

His son’s Army contract was up last month, Walter Vaughn said, but he was required to remain with his unit until it returned home.

Vaughn told his father about the increasing danger posed by the more sophisticated and powerful IEDs that the insurgents were using and commented, “I think my luck has just about run out.”

“He was really afraid of that,” Walter Vaughn said, “but he said, ‘I got to finish my tour because I can’t leave my buddies over there.’ He said, ‘I’d never be able to live with myself.’ ”

Sausto, 22, of Hamilton Township, N.J., was a shy, quiet youth who “came out of his shell” when he joined the Army, relatives said.

“He used to be so shy, and now he was so outgoing and confident,” said his sister-in-law, Mary. “It was like, out of nowhere, he decided to be a man.”

Sausto was a member of the 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment — part of the 4th Brigade that recently joined thousands of Fort Lewis 3rd Brigade comrades in the Baghdad area.

On Sunday, six Fort Lewis soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb destroyed their Stryker vehicle. The memorial service for the six soldiers is set for 3 p.m. Tuesday in Soldiers Field House.

Michael Gilbert of The News Tribune 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 chill@theolympian.com.

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