Two Idaho Army National Guardsmen with the 116th Cavalry Brigade were killed in action in Iraq Thursday and a third was seriously wounded when their vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device in Baghdad.
The Department of Defense confirmed early Saturday morning that Specialist Nick Newby, 20, of Coeur d'Alene (pictured at right) and Specialist Nathan Beyers, 24, also of Coeur d'Alene, were killed in action Thursday by an improvised explosive device while on a convoy mission in Iraq.
A third soldier, Staff Sergeant Jason Rzepa, sustained serious leg injuries in the IED strike. He has been stabilized and transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for further treatment.
Newby, according to his Facebook profile, was a 2009 Lake City High School graduate and had attended North Idaho College. He enlisted in the Army and received training as a mechanic, but his current assignment was as a machine gunner. Beyers, who enlisted in the military in Littleton, Colorado, was a long-time resident of the Coeur d'Alene area.
The guardsmen were assigned to the 145th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Cavalry Brigade, which deployed to Iraq last fall as part of Operation New Dawn.
"The 116th Cav Brigade has a support mission in Iraq; we'll be over doing FOB (Forward Operating Base) security, most of the missions the units in the brigade will be doing will be security, convoy security, FOB security, security of some type," 116th Cavalry Brigade Commander Colonel Guy Thomas said during an interview last August prior to the deployment.
The security missions often take many units "outside the wire" on hazardous convoy security missions in and around Baghdad. In fact Specialist Newby and his platoon was featured in a three-part series of stories published by KXLY.com earlier this spring that focused on the daily convoy missions his unit ran from Camp Liberty, located near Baghdad International Airport, to the international zone - more commonly known as the Green Zone - a dozen miles away.
Rhino Platoon of Task Force Dragon is charged with running convoy operations, transporting men and material, along the expressway that connects Camp Liberty to the Green Zone.
By the time of the April 2011 series profiling Rhino Platoon, the unit had performed over 288 missions, transported more than 10,000 people and escorted approximately 2,600 trucks carrying fuel and other essential materials. The operational tempo took its toll on the men.
?The first month we arrived, we were working non-stop,? Sergeant First Class Henry Carr, Rhino's platoon sergeant from Post Falls, said. ?We ran three times a day and one time at night for 20 hours a day. My guys would run from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. That is what we were doing and it was killing us.?
The men of the platoon manned MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles that were armed with something called a counter radio control improvised explosive device electronic device warfare - or CREW system for short. The bottom line is that the CREW system is there to help prevent improvised explosive device attacks like the one that killed Newby and Byers earlier this week.
?I?ve seen the damage it can do to vehicles,? Specialist Michael Longwill said. ?The CREW system will mitigate or prevent the damage. If your CREW system doesn?t work you could be putting your buddy?s life at risk, so it is incredibly important to ensure it works.?
Another important member of the team is the gunner. Perched atop the MRAP behind an M240B machine gun, it's the gunner's job to scan for and react to threats to the convoy. From this exposed position, Specialist Newby was his vehicle's gunner, providing critical overwatch to his vehicle and the rest of the convoy.
?You are the eyes and ears for the whole crew,? Specialist Cory Payne of Spokane said. ?The gunner is the safe haven for the passenger and with sharp focus, he will see minor details or any threats.?
?My friends who have deployed before me gave me examples of how gunners save lives,? Payne said. ?I take a personal perspective, I love being up there, just ask my TC (Track Commander). I take my title as a gunner very seriously.?
?By the end of each mission we see success,? said Staff Sgt. Ryan Rogers, a convoy and truck commander from Coeur d'Alene. ?I always pray to God we are able to take all of our guys home.?
Specialist Newby leaves behind family members including his mother Theresa Hart, father Wayne Newby, brothers Nathan and Ryder and many other family members and friends in the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho area and Connecticut. His mother and father released the following statement:
"Nick would do anything for anybody who needed his help. He'd stick by his friends and never gave up on anybody. He had a great sense of humor, ever since he was a kid. For instance, once when he saw his pregnant mom drinking orange juice, he said 'mom, you're getting orange juice all over the baby!' Nick was intellectually curious and an avid reader. He was also a planner - he researched things, planned out and then followed through with all he said. He was a great musician who played many instruments including guitar, bass guitar, saxophone and drums. Nick loved fishing, camping, road trips, learning to fly as a member of the Civil Air Patrol and wrestling with his brother. He loved thrashing his truck and then fixing it; we recall digging him out of the snow and we all smiled through it. Nick loved his family, and everybody loved him."
Specialist Beyers leaves behind his wife Vanessa Beyers and his daughter, born on Veterans Day, Nov 11, 2010. His wife Vanessa released this statement:
"Nathan was proud of his job and serving our country. He died doing something he loved and was such a brave person. We just had our first child and Nathan had a chance to visit us when he was home on leave in January I told him I knew he was going to be a wonderful father. We are going to miss him."
"This is an extremely sad time for the Citizen Soldiers and Citizen Airmen of the Idaho National Guard," Major General Gary L. Sayler, commanding general of the Idaho National Guard, said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family members of these fine Idaho Citizen Soldiers, and we will work to help and support these families with many types of assistance over the coming days, weeks, months and years."
RELATED CONTENT:Rhino Platoon Keeps Iraq Moving Rhinos Move Out End Of MissionVideo:North Idaho troops deploy to IraqSlideshow: