Ft. Lewis Awaits Word on Casualties

Information was slow to trickle back to those living on or near this Army base about the attack that killed more than 20 people at a Mosul (search), Iraq, post of Task Force Olympia (search), many of whose members are Fort Lewis (search) soldiers.

Reports of the number of dead fluctuated in what apparently was the deadliest attack on a U.S. base in Iraq. Some military officials Tuesday put the number of American troops killed at 19, others at 14. Halliburton said seven contractors also were killed.

Lt. Col. Bill Costello, a Fort Lewis spokesman, said he had few details on the attack, including how many casualties might be from Fort Lewis. He offered condolences to relatives and friends of the dead and injured.

"Anytime you lose a soldier, it's stressful," Costello said. "It doesn't matter if it's Christmas week or the middle of August."

Lt. Col. Joseph Piek, at Fort Lewis, was in Iraq from November 2003 to August 2004 serving as public affairs officer for Task Force Olympia. He said Tuesday that he heard news of the attack as he was getting ready for work.

"I was shocked and saddened. But at the same time, I started seeing pictures of how our soldiers handled this," he said. "I'm very proud of the way the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers reacted. They got the injured soldiers to medical facilities very rapidly."

Piek said chaplains and others at Fort Lewis were preparing to notify and console families as necessary.

"The soldiers, the units and the families here are prepared to support each other in any way they can," he said.

The task force is part of I Corps, based at Fort Lewis, and includes members of the active Army, reserve and National Guard, along with U.S. Marines and Iraqi security forces. The main unit is the 4,000-member, Fort Lewis-based 1st Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division, a Stryker Brigade, named for the armored vehicle the unit uses.

The 1st Brigade had been in Mosul since October, when it relieved another Fort Lewis-based Stryker unit.

People who live and work near the base awaited further details on the attack and casualties. Karen Priest, who manages One-Stop Insurance, said soldiers and family members always wonder if the wounded or killed might be someone they know.

"We always have the TV on, and the soldiers will sit down and watch when we hear of an attack like that," said Priest, 50, of Tacoma. "We'll wonder if it's local. There's worry about if it's somebody they know."

Gary Ficken, 50, a truck driver who stopped by a bar near the Madigan Gate at Fort Lewis on Tuesday, added: "It doesn't matter which units they were with. They're all American soldiers. You just want them to get the job done and get out of there."

Since the war began, 31 soldiers from Fort Lewis have been killed in Iraq. There are 6,700 Fort Lewis soldiers in Iraq, though Costello said he did not know how many were based in Mosul.