FORT BRAGG, N.C. – Army officials on Tuesday began the solemn process of contacting the families of nine paratroopers killed in a suicide truck bombing in Iraq, the single deadliest attack for the storied 82nd Airborne Division since the war began.
Twenty paratroopers from the same division were wounded in the blast, which was also the single greatest loss of life for American ground forces since Dec. 1 2005, when a roadside bomb killed 10 Marines and wounded 11 on a foot patrol near Fallujah.
"It's tough. Nobody wants to go to a military funeral," said Spc. John Fisher, standing with his wife and newborn son outside a restaurant in nearby Fayetteville. "It's not something you want to happen to yourself, but it's part of the job of defending your country."
The soldiers were members of the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team at Fort Bragg. A civilian interpreter was also wounded in the attack.
Fifteen of the wounded suffered only superficial injuries and returned to duty. Five others were evacuated to a military hospital, but none of them has life-threatening injuries, division spokesman Maj. Tom Earnhardt said.
The identities of the soldiers were not immediately released.
An insurgent group that includes Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility, according to a statement posted Tuesday on the Internet.
Earnhardt said the paratroopers' families were still being notified Tuesday. The 82nd Division, which has about two-thirds of its soldiers deployed, must assemble nine notification teams and prepare to counsel families and assign each a casualty assistance officer, he said.
A memorial service will be held in May at the base, about 70 miles south of Raleigh, Earnhardt said.
The 82nd Airborne is one of the nation's most celebrated military units, having played major roles in many of the Army's biggest operations.
Its paratroopers were nicknamed the "All-Americans" in World War II, when they jumped into Italy, flew on gliders into Normandy and parachuted into Holland.
The paratroopers' unit deployed in August to Iraq. In all, the division has four brigade combat teams in Iraq or Afghanistan, plus a supply brigade in Iraq and an aviation brigade split between Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of the roughly 18,000 paratroopers in the division, only about 6,000 remain at Fort Bragg, and 3,500 of those are scheduled to deploy to Iraq early this summer.
The deaths raised to 85 the number of U.S. service members who died have in Iraq in April, making it the deadliest month for American troops since December, when 112 died.