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Spokane man killed in Iraq

Sun., May 6, 2007

A soldier from Spokane was killed Thursday in Iraq after his armored vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in Ramadi, according to the U.S. Army Reserve.

Cpl. Kelly Grothe, 21, was in a heavily armored vehicle taking part in a route-cleaning mission when the improvised explosive device went off, killing him and another soldier, Staff Sgt. Coby Schwab, of Henderson, Nev.

Five other soldiers from Spokane and North Idaho were wounded in the attack, though officials say their wounds are not serious. The soldiers serve with Company B of the 321st Engineer Battalion of the U.S. Army Reserve, which is headquartered in Boise.

The injured include: Master Sgt. David Johnson, of Spokane, who suffered an injured back; Spc. Joshua Wheeler, of Anacortes, Wash., who suffered a concussion; Spc. Adam Vindasious, of Coeur d’Alene, who ruptured his eardrums; Spc. Joseph Johnson, of Kalispell, Mont., who suffered a concussion; and Spc. Andrew Eselbauch, of Bonners Ferry, who suffered a concussion.

The men were among 350 from the unit deployed in July to Iraq for a 1 1/2-year mission. Grothe, a 2004 Central Valley High School graduate, was one of six soldiers in the unit from the Spokane Valley-based 659th Engineer Battalion.

The mission of the 321st is to clear roadside bombs and to guard convoys. Since arriving in Iraq, they have defused or destroyed “several hundred” roadside bombs, said Lt. Wade Winegardner, commander of the company’s rear detachment. These IEDs, as they are known, are often detonated by remote control and have become a weapon of choice against American forces in Iraq. Some are also detonated by infrared or magnetic triggers.

The unit was conducting a regular mission Thursday at about 8 p.m. Pacific time when an IED blew up and hit a vehicle, injuring five soldiers inside, Winegardner said. A second armored vehicle stopped to assist the soldiers when another IED went off, killing two soldiers inside the second vehicle.

The soldiers were traveling in vehicles specially equipped to withstand mines and explosives. “They’re very heavily armored vehicles compared to the other ones out there,” Winegardner said at a press conference Saturday afternoon at the McCarter Army Reserve Center in Hayden.

The deaths are believed to be the first suffered by the unit’s Bravo Company since World War II. In February, three soldiers with the Boise-based Alpha Company of the 321st were killed in Iraq when a roadside bomb exploded next to their truck.

The same day Grothe and Schwab were killed, five other soldiers were killed in Iraq, including three from roadside bombs. As of Saturday, at least 3,362 members of the U.S. military have been killed in Iraq, according to an Associated Press count.

As of Saturday, no information was available on Grothe’s funeral arrangements.

Tributes to Grothe were already being posted on his page on the Internet. A soldier from his unit described Grothe as being upbeat and quick to laugh. “Your heart was pure,” the posting read. “Everyone wanted you around them because if you were there, it would be a fun time. … I will never forget you.”

On his page, Grothe discussed his dreams of someday traveling to Germany and of his desire to go to college. The posting also includes answers to such questions as his favorite type of pizza (pineapple), his fears (heights) and the type of shoes he puts on each morning (desert combat boots).

Among the many questions on the form, Grothe also posted an answer to the question of how he would want to die. “Well, I don’t really want to,” he wrote, “but I guess if I have to, I want to go really, really quick.”


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