Lewis-McChord soldier killed while serving in Iraq

Sgt. Brandon E. Maggart's job was to help warn friendly forces in Iraq about rockets and mortars launched against their bases – and to help protect them when the enemy artillery rounds started flying. Maggart, a 24-year-old husband and the father of a 3-year-old son, was killed Sunday while doing that job.

The Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier died of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using indirect fire in Basra, the Department of Defense announced Tuesday.

The native of Kirksville, Mo., was on his second tour with the 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment – a unit that has deployed to Iraq three times. His death comes as the number of U.S. troops in Iraq has dropped below 50,000, meeting the Obama administration’s Aug. 31 deadline.

In Tacoma, the frenetic pace of wartime deployments has slowed dramatically. About 18,000 soldiers are returning to Lewis-McChord this year from Iraq and Afghanistan, the most since the two wars began.

But Maggart’s death serves as a reminder that the fighting continues, even as the U.S. shifts its Iraq policy to a training and advisory role.

“There is still danger. There are still going to be people who attack our forces. We all know that,” Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, told The Associated Press Tuesday. Odierno is set to depart Iraq next week after more than five years there.

Maggart’s fellow air defense artillerymen – a 500-member battalion nicknamed the Dragonslayers – are among about 2,500 local service members who still will live and work in combat zones when the summer ends. They deployed in January.

According to unit records, Maggart enlisted in the Army in June 2006 and reported to Fort Bliss, Texas, for basic training. Maggart was assigned to Fort Lewis in November 2006. He is survived by his wife of four years, Teresa Cooper; son, Blake; and parents, Teddy and Beth Maggart, according to the Kirksville Daily Express newspaper in Missouri.

The 5-5 Air Defense Artillery has had two other soldiers killed, both on June 10, 2007, in a roadside bombing during its last deployment.

On its current tour, the battalion was dispersed to more than a dozen bases around Iraq where it operates a Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar system, known as C-RAM. The system integrates sensors, loudspeakers and weaponry to detect, alert and protect coalition forces from enemy fire, according to military officials.