4 local soldiers die

Four artillerymen from Joint Base Lewis-McChord were killed Saturday when their vehicle was hit by an enemy bomb while they were helping secure routes for coalition forces in Afghanistan, Army officials said Monday.

It marked the largest fatal strike on local troops in nine months.

Killed in the attack were:

 • Staff Sgt. Conrad A. Mora, 24, of San Diego.

 • Sgt. Daniel Lim, 23, of Cypress, Calif.

 • Spc. Joseph A. Bauer, 27, of Owensville, Ohio.

 • Pfc. Andrew L. Hand, 25, of Enterprise, Ala.

The soldiers lost their lives in Qalat, the volatile capital city of Zabul province, in the country’s south – the same city where another soldier with local ties, Lt. Robert N. Bennedsen, 25, of Vashon Island, died six days earlier.

The four are the first combat deaths from the 17th Fires Brigade, a reorganized former artillery brigade that has been based at Lewis-McChord for three years. Another member of the brigade, Pfc. Derrick Gwaltney, died in Iraq last November in what the Army called a noncombat incident.

The soldiers were assigned to the 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, part of which was split off from the rest of the brigade and sent to Afghanistan. They belonged to a detachment of about 250 soldiers that deployed there in October.

The bulk of the 17th Fires Brigade – about 1,000 soldiers – returned this month from a yearlong deployment to southern Iraq.

Three of the four fallen soldiers were trained as crew members firing multiple-launch rockets. The fourth, Bauer, was trained as a motor transport operator.

Their battalion specializes in the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, which is a new-generation six-rocket launch system mounted on the back of a 5-ton truck. When the battalion moved to Fort Lewis from Fort Sill, Okla., in summer 2007, its soldiers left their old rockets behind and quickly started training on the HIMARS.

But as is so often the case with U.S. artillery forces, once they arrive in Afghanistan and Iraq, their missions mostly follow an infantry script.

Mora joined the Army in 2004, served in Korea among other assignments, and reported to Lewis-McChord in November 2009. This was his second deployment to Afghanistan.

Lim joined the Army in 2006, served a total of 31 months on two assignments in Korea, and reported to Lewis-McChord in May 2009. This was his first combat deployment.

Lim graduated from Pacifica High School in Garden Grove, Calif., in 2005, where he took challenging academic courses and was a solid student, a Garden Grove Unified School District spokesman told the Orange County Register. Lim had been a member of Korean Martyrs Catholic Center in Westminster, the Register reported.

Bauer joined the Army in 2007 and was assigned to Lewis-McChord in April 2008. This was his first deployment.

Bauer’s relatives told the Cincinnati Enquirer that Defense Department officials informed them Bauer died Saturday when an explosive hit his vehicle while he was working duty as a mine sweeper. His family said he recently re-enlisted with plans of becoming a career soldier.

Hand joined the Army in 2004, left for a time, and returned in October 2008, when he was assigned to Lewis-McChord with the 657th Fire Support Company. This was his first deployment.

Hand played football and baseball and was on the track team of Enterprise, Ala., High School, where his father, Kenneth, was the football coach, according to the Enterprise Ledger.

He was “an outstanding young man,” Enterprise City Schools Superintendent Jim Reese told the Ledger. “He was quiet and unassuming. Andrew was the kind of young person you would want defending your country.”

Saturday’s attack underscores the dangers still confronting hundreds of local service members in Afghanistan, even with the recent homecoming of 4,000 Stryker soldiers from the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

The bombing caused the largest loss of life for local troops since Oct. 27, when eight Stryker soldiers were killed in one day, seven of them in a single roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan.

Staff writer Mike Archbold contributed to this report.