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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 14, 2008

Schofield planning memorial to honor 4 troops slain in Iraq

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Sgt. Gary D. Willett

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Spc. Michael T. Manibog

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Sgt. Timothy P. Martin

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Staff Sgt. Jerald A. Whisenhunt

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The deaths of four Hawai'i-based Stryker Brigade members in Iraq continued to reverberate through the Islands yesterday.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the Army, called Friday's deaths a blow to the military community and the Islands' 'ohana, and he vowed to continue his efforts to better protect U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq.

"It only strengthens my resolve to do all I can to see that our troops have everything they need to perform their mission and be safe from harm until we can bring them home," he said yesterday.

Abercrombie, who authored and helped win passage of the first bipartisan House bill to redeploy troops from Iraq, has also tried to focus more attention on meeting the immediate needs of soldiers and less on future high-tech weapons systems. (Abercrombie's bill passed the full House and awaits action in the Senate.)

During hearings on the 2008 defense bill, for example, he transferred funding from the Army's "Future Combat Systems" budget to the V-hull Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, saying that the vehicles are needed right now.

"The loss of any of our men and women serving in Iraq is difficult to accept," he said yesterday. "We all grieve."

The four soldiers died from wounds suffered when the 20-ton Stryker vehicle in which they were traveling was blown apart by a roadside bomb Friday in Taji, Iraq, northwest of Baghdad.

Killed were Sgt. Gary D. Willett, 34, of Alamogordo, N.M.; Spc. Michael T. Manibog, 31, of Alameda, Calif.; Sgt. Timothy P. Martin, 27, of Pixley, Calif.; and Staff Sgt. Jerald A. Whisenhunt, 32, of Orrick, Mo.

Manibog, Whisenhunt and Willett were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

Martin was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

Six other soldiers in the Stryker vehicle were injured.

The San Francisco Chronicle said friends remembered Manibog as a father devoted to his 9-year-old son, Terrell, and life of the party at gatherings.

"He was very loud, his voice ... carried across the room, and he always joked around with everyone," Carla Dorotheo, 30, told the newspaper. "I will always remember him as being the comedian of the group. He made people smile, and he cared genuinely about his friends."

In Pixley, Calif., a neighbor of the Martin family remembered Timothy Martin.

"I can't even imagine Tim not being here," Patricia Resa told the Fresno Bee newspaper. "When he was home, he'd be out there racing his Mustang, making a lot of racket. We always knew when Tim was home."

Friday's loss of life was the second fatal attack that involved Hawai'i's Stryker Brigade since it deployed in late 2007 with 4,000 soldiers and more than 325 Stryker vehicles.

Yesterday, officials at Schofield were preparing a memorial service for the four soldiers killed on Friday.

Master Sgt. David Rhodes, chief spokesman for Schofield's 25th Infantry Division, said the service would be held at the base chapel unless renovations there interfere. In that event, the service would held at Wheeler Army Airfield, he said.

He said the private service would probably be scheduled for next week for military personnel and members of the families of those who were killed.

Friday's Stryker explosion was Schofield Barracks' largest loss of life since a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Northern Iraq on Aug. 22. Ten soldiers stationed at the post were killed in that incident.

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.