Three Fort Lewis soldiers, including a Lacey resident who reportedly attempted to shield his men from the attack, died Tuesday in Afghanistan, the Pentagon announced.
It is the deadliest single attack in Afghanistan involving soldiers from the Army post since the U.S. invasion began nearly six years ago.
The soldiers were assigned to the 864th Engineer Battalion, which deployed to the Middle East in March for the third time in 41/2 years. The battalion is a subordinate unit of the 555th Engineer Brigade, also known as the Triple Nickel.
The soldiers were identified as:
•Sgt. 1st Class Rocky H. Herrera,
43, of Salt Lake City, who lived in Lacey with his wife, Traci.
•Sgt. Cory L. Clark,
25, of Plant City, Fla.
•Sgt. Bryce D. Howard,
24, of Vancouver, Wash.
Herrera and Clark were assigned to the battalion's 585th Engineer Pipeline Company; Howard served with its Headquarters Support Company.
They died when a suicide bomber detonated explosives as they were constructing a bridge in Jaji, a village along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Pentagon provided no other details.
However, Herrera's family members said they were told he noted something amiss when a man approached a group of soldiers as they were constructing a bridge.
"He put himself in between the bomber and the troops; he realized what was happening," his sister, Jeri, told KUTV in Salt Lake City.
"So instead of a lot of casualties, just three."
Herrera, a construction equipment supervisor, purchased a home in the Lakepointe neighborhood in August 2005, shortly after he transferred to Fort Lewis. He entered the military 21 years ago and began his current term of active service in 1996.
No one answered the door at their home Thursday.
Across the street, Adam and Michele Wager were grappling with the loss of a friend and neighbor.
The Wagers, who moved from Las Vegas nine years ago, said they are one of the few non- military families on the block, and "it really pulls at the heartstrings at the sacrifices that are made," Michele said.
Clark, a general construction equipment operator who had been deployed twice to Iraq, enlisted in the Army in 2001 and joined an engineer company assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team). He served a year in Iraq with the brigade and transferred to the 864th a few months after returning home.
Howard, a technical engineer, enlisted in January 2002. He served a year in Korea before arriving at Fort Lewis and joining the unit four years ago.
The battalion had deployed to Iraq in March 2003 and to Afghanistan in March 2005.