Three Stryker soldiers die in Iraq

Three Fort Lewis soldiers were killed Tuesday when insurgents in Baghdad bombed their vehicle, the military said Friday.

Six other soldiers were wounded in the blast in the eastern section of the capital, according to news releases issued at the Pentagon and by military authorities in Iraq.

The Department of Defense identified the three Stryker brigade soldiers as:

Spc. Zachariah J. Gonzalez, 23, of the Indianapolis area.

Pfc. Charles T. Heinlein Jr., 23, of Hemlock, Mich.

Pfc. Alfred H. Jairala, 29, of Hialeah, Fla.

All three were assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division — the Fort Lewis Stryker brigade now in its second straight summer of fighting in Iraq. They belonged to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment.

U.S. military officials in Baghdad said the patrol was attacked with a bomb outfitted with an “explosively formed penetrator,” or EFP, a modification that officials say has been used with greater frequency against U.S. troops over the past several months.

EFPs are copper or other metal spheres placed over an explosive that, when detonated, form superheated projectiles capable of piercing deep into protective armor.

U.S. military officials in Iraq for months now have accused Iran of supplying Iraqi insurgents with large numbers of manufactured EFPs.

As recently as Wednesday, 3rd Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch told Pentagon reporters that his units south of Baghdad have been attacked with EFPs some 40 times, “and all those are directly traceable back to Iran.”

It couldn’t be determined Friday how many times Fort Lewis Strykers have been attacked with EFPs or if the Fort Lewis units are seeing the same alleged Iranian influence in their areas of operation.

Some units are in the capital, while others are operating to the north, in Diyala and Salah-ad-Din provinces.

All three soldiers killed Tuesday were on their first tours of Iraq.

Gonzalez graduated high school in Fishers, Ind., in 2002. He enlisted in the Army in April 2004 in Indianapolis. He did his basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., in August that year, then reported to Fort Lewis in December 2004.

Heinlein enlisted in September 2005 at Lansing, Mich., and reported to Fort Benning that October. He came to Fort Lewis in February 2006.

Jairala enlisted in September 2004 in Miami, trained at Fort Benning the same month and was assigned to Fort Lewis in January 2005.

Third Brigade has lost 40 soldiers in its second deployment to Iraq — twice as many as it lost in its first trip.

The brigade is 14 months into its second tour and due to return home next month.