Fort Lewis brigade loses 5 men

Wednesday was a difficult day for family members of soldiers assigned to a Fort Lewis-based Stryker brigade, as word came that four soldiers had died in a single attack in Iraq.

Three hours later, the Department of Defense identified a fifth soldier assigned to the unit who was killed in a separate attack.

Staff Sgt. Greg P. Gagarin, 38, of Los Angeles; Sgt. James C. Akin, 23, of Albuquerque, N.M.; Sgt. Tyler J. Kritz, 21, of Eagle River, Wis.; and Sgt. Robert A. Surber, 24, of Inverness, Fla., were killed Sunday in Thania, Iraq, when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle.

They were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team).

Sgt. Andrews J. Higgins, 28, of Hayward, Calif., died Tuesday in Baqubah, Iraq, when his unit came under enemy fire. He was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment.

Thirty-five soldiers assigned to the brigade have been killed in Iraq since it deployed there last summer. The unit is expected to return home in October. One-hundred twenty-six service members assigned to Fort Lewis have been killed in Iraq.

Gagarin enlisted in 1988 and served twice in Korea and at Fort Lewis. He deployed with the Stryker brigade during its first mission in Iraq from November 2003 to November 2004. The other three soldiers were serving in their first combat deployment.

Akin, who was driving the Humvee, wanted to become president someday, family spokesman Victor Raigoza said in Albuquerque. Akin would have been 24 on June 28, said his wife, Syreeta of Rio Rancho, N.M.

"He was willing to put his actions where his mouth was," Raigoza said. "If he one day occupied the office where war would be determined, (he felt) that it would be necessary for him to have experienced that."

Higgins enlisted in March 1996 and reported to Fort Lewis in October 2000. He spent time with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment before transferring to the battalion he deployed with to Iraq. This was his first deployment.