Arrest reported in soldiers' deaths
STILLWATER, Minn. - News reports from Iraq detail an arrest in a Thursday attack that killed three Minnesota National Guard soldiers and injured another.
The Associated Press reported that the Basra police chief said a man confessed early Saturday to the attack that killed Spc. Daniel P. Drevnick, 22, of Woodbury, Spc. James Wertish, 20, of Olivia and Spc. Carlos E. Wilcox IV, 27, of Cottage Grove. The attack appeared to be from a missile or mortar shell.
American military spokesmen would not confirm the arrest and offered few details of the attack. Officials did not say if the soldiers were on duty when attacked.
A fourth Guard member, also from Minnesota, was hurt, but military officials said only that the soldier's condition was "stable" and would release no other information.
All were part of the Stillwater-based 34th Military Police Company.
The attack came at 9:15 p.m. Iraqi time, 1:15 p.m. Minnesota time, Thursday on Contingency Operating Base Basra. The three deaths make Thursday the deadliest day for Minnesota soldiers in more than four years. Three Minnesota soldiers died in a roadside bomb blast on Feb. 21, 2005.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the deaths were the first since the American military withdrew combat forces from Iraqi cities on June 30. Southern Iraq, in the Basra area, had been considered one of the country's calmest regions.
"I express my deepest sympathies" to the three families, Lt. Col. Michael Wickman, the rear detachment commander of the 34th Infantry Division said Saturday at the Stillwater Armory.
He said National Guard teams were helping families cope with the loss.
Wickman said he had little information about the attack. The Defense Department would say only it was "an indirect attack," which to the military means a missile, mortar or artillery attack.
Minnesota leaders expressed their sadness.
"Minnesota is a state where we wrap our arms around our brave men and women who make tremendous sacrifices to keep our nation strong and free," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. "As we mourn their loss, let us also pay tribute to all of our soldiers who carry out their duties in the face of danger on a daily basis. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of these fallen heroes and with the entire Minnesota National Guard community, at home and overseas."
The head of the Minnesota National Guard, Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito, also asked Minnesotans to take time to reflect "on the ultimate sacrifice made by these three brave men."
"We will never forget the dedication, loyalty and bravery shown by these soldiers for the United States of America and the state of Minnesota," the general said.
The three killed and one injured were part of a force of more than 1,000 sent from the Rosemount, Minn.-based 34th Red Bull Infantry Division. While the Red Bull troops are based in Rosemount, Inver Grove Heights, Faribault and Stillwater, they come from 273 Minnesota communities and 13 other states.
The Stillwater unit has 180 soldiers who provide traditional police-type functions. But Guard officials said they did not know exactly what jobs were held by those killed and injured.
The troops left Minnesota for training on Feb. 13 and arrived in Iraq in May.
Besides Red Bulls, several other Minnesota National Guard units have personnel in Iraq. About 2,000 are in Iraq or other foreign locations. More than 14,000 soldiers and airmen serve in the Minnesota Guard.
Funeral services for the three soldiers have not been set.
Wertish, the Olivia man that was killed, enjoyed working on the family farm, the National Guard reported.
He was born in Redwood Falls and graduated from high school in Olivia. He enlisted in the National Guard in 2006.
The Guard said his fellow soldiers reported that Wertish "would literally give you the shirt off his back."
"He loved snowmobiles and playing Rock Band II," the Guard reported. "He could always make us laugh with him humor; we could count on him to improve our day."
His parents, David and Kim Wertish, survive, along with two sisters and a brother.
Wilcox had been in the Guard since 2006, and previously was in the Army Reserve.
He served in a Cottage Grove-based medical company before transferring to the military police unit last year. He wanted to become a doctor, building on his Metro State University biology degree.
The National Guard reported that fellow soldiers "found it fun to joke around with them; they were always amazed by how professional and astute Wilcox was."
He was the son of Charlene Wilcox.
Drevnick was a Woodbury High School graduate who wanted to obtain a law enforcement degree. He attended Century College in White Bear Lake before leaving for Iraq.
He was back home in Woodbury earlier this month.
Drevnick and his father, Ken Drevnick, partnered in a drag-racing team, which took them throughout the Midwest.
His father and mother, Roberta Freese, survive.