U.S. soldier killed in combat in Iraq returns home

The first service member to be killed in combat in four years returns home Saturday.

The soldier, identified by the Defense Department as 39-year-old Master Sgt. Josh Wheeler of Roland, Okla., died from injuries sustained from enemy small arms fire while helping Kurdish Peshmurga forces fight the Islamic State during a rescue operation to free about 70 hostages.

Wheeler was in Iraq as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the name for President Obama's strategy to "degrade and defeat" the Islamic State have made in Iraq and Syria. He is not the first U.S. service member to be killed as part of the operation, he is the first service member to be killed in action in Iraq since President Obama had the military withdraw its forces in 2011. All nine previous deaths have been classified as "non-hostile," according to Defense Department statistics.

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Since Wheeler was killed early Thursday, the Pentagon has denied that the U.S. is shifting soldiers into active combat roles. Currently there are 3,500 U.S. troops in Iraq. The U.S. is also conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

During a press briefing Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook deflected questions that the military is putting "boots on the ground."

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