By Staff Sgt. Angela McKinzie, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 23, 2007 – It's a unit's worst nightmare: the uncertain fate of a fellow American soldier. The soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division's 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, Fort Drum, N.Y., are focused on finding their missing comrades and returning them home.
Three of the unit's soldiers have been missing since a May 12 ambush. A body found today by Iraqi police may be that of one of the missing soldiers, military officials said, but no confirmation has yet been announced.
Leaders say the missing soldiers, Spc. Alex Jimenez, Pfc. Joseph Anzack and Pvt. Byron Fouty, had survivor characteristics.
"Jimenez and Anzack were both physically and mentally strong -- especially Anzack; he was hard-headed and strong-willed," said Capt. Don Jamoles, former D Company commander. "Jimenez ... had a lot of street smarts."
Jamoles was the commander of the newly formed company for about a year before being selected for a second command in the regiment's Headquarters and Headquarters Company. He was close to all three of the missing soldiers.
"I never thought in a million years that something like this would happen to us," Jamoles said, referring to the missing soldiers as still a part of him. "I lay in bed each night imagining where these men can be, hoping we find something that will bring us closer to them and wishing when I woke up they would be found."
The soldiers were abducted within one of the most contested areas of the brigade's area. Company D is responsible for a sector that runs along the Euphrates River on a stretch of road where insurgents routinely plant improvised explosive devices. The area is rural farmland near a defunct weapons factory, populated by intelligence and Republican Guard officers who were part of Saddam Hussein's regime.
The three factors combine to provide an enemy force with resources, know-how and means to plant IEDs. The frequency of the IEDs being emplaced made overwatch of the area critical; it is easier to prevent emplacement than to defuse the devices, soldiers say.
Knowing the dangers in the area hasn't kept soldiers from searching for their missing comrades.
As of May 21, 2nd Brigade and Iraqi forces had conducted 37 company-level or higher missions. Nineteen U.S and 22 Iraqi army companies are taking part in the search. Apache attack helicopters have run missions 22 hours per day.
Twenty-seven air assault missions had been conducted, delivering soldiers to time-sensitive, intelligence-driven targets. More than 70 individuals with suspected ties to the attack had been detained.
Soldiers continue to fight rising temperatures, walk over uneven land, keep a vigilant watch for IEDs, sift through reeds taller than themselves and wade through canals in hopes of finding their brothers-in-arms.
Tips from local citizens offer hope as the search continues. More than 159 tips have been passed to the coalition. Some lead to nowhere; some advance knowledge as to where the soldiers might be.
"I haven't heard of indicators that make me believe the soldiers are dead," Command Sgt. Maj. Alex Jimenez of the 4-31 said earlier this week. "It gets frustrating that we cannot find them, but we are not losing hope. We will continue searching for our soldiers and doing whatever we can to find them. We will not leave them."
(Army Staff Sgt. Angela McKinzie is assigned to the 10th Mountain Division and Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.)
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