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Mourners feel ‘big void’ from loss of Stryker team member

FORT LEWIS — Mourners streamed into a chapel Wednesday to grieve the loss of another soldier in Iraq, a sight that has become increasingly common at the Army post in recent days.

On Wednesday, they eulogized Sgt. Jason Vaughn, 29, the day after what would have been the fourth anniversary of his entry into Army service. Vaughn died May 10 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle, Pentagon officials said.

Mourners will fill the chapel again today during a memorial service for two more soldiers, Cpl. Jonathan V. Hamm, 20, and Cpl. Aaron D. Gautier, 19.

Eleven Fort Lewis soldiers have died in Iraq in the past two weeks.

Vaughn, of Iuka, Miss., was remembered as an honest, hard-working person who didn’t let personal travails affect his commitment to his soldiers.

He entered Army service May 22, 2003, after taking courses at Northeast Mississippi Community College and Mississippi State University.

He arrived at Fort Lewis that October and was assigned to A Company, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

He was a rifleman but became a Stryker vehicle driver after being injured during the brigade’s first deployment to Iraq.

Maj. Hank Barnes, the battalion’s rear detachment commander, recalled how family members visited Vaughn during training in Yakima, and Vaughn showed off the eight-wheeled armored vehicle’s capabilities, including how it handled on muddy and rocky terrain.

“Jason treated my family like it was his own,” he said.

The night before Vaughn was killed, Sgt. Danny Barrett recalled saying he’d see Vaughn tomorrow. Barrett said that if he’d known those would be his last words to Vaughn, he would have said much more — about how he appreciated the person Vaughn was and his willingness to give of himself. “There’s going to be a big void there for a long time,” Barrett said.

Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or at chill@theolympian.com.

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