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US troops killed in Iraq and Kuwait

Army Spc. Paul E. Andersen

On paper, Paul E. Andersen was a devoted military man who spent about 25 years with the Army Reserve. At heart, he was a kid.

The 49-year-old from Dowagiac, Mich., enjoyed slurping strawberry milkshakes, tinkering with machines and putting up lots of lights at Christmas. To deliver his riding lawn mower to his stepdaughter's home, he once drove it along the road and fooled police by pretending to mow the roadside.

"He was pleased and proud as can be, especially because he got away with it," said his wife, Linda.

She first bumped into Andersen at a friend's home in 2004, after his first tour in Iraq.

"I backed up and stepped on his foot, and I just asked him what the hell he was doing and please get out of the way," she said. "He just stood there." They married four months later.

In August, he got leave to return to South Bend, Ind., where he was based, for their fifth anniversary. He died weeks later in Baghdad, on Oct. 1, when a camp was attacked with indirect fire.

"I hope he can rest now," his wife said. "He's served our country very well."

Andersen also is survived by six children and stepchildren.


Army Maj. David L. Audo

Long before David L. Audo became a father of two youngsters who had spent his share of assignments overseas, he was a seemingly model student at St. Joseph-Ogden High School in his hometown of St. Joseph, Illinois.

He took advanced classes like honors biology and was quite a motivated student, coach and teacher Jim Acklin said.

"His sense of humor sticks out, and he was ornery in a good way," Acklin said, adding that Audo also ran dashes and relays as a sprinter on the track team and was in the drama club.

He was commissioned as an officer in 1997, first assigned with the military police in Germany and later deployed twice to Kosovo, then to Iraq and to Afghanistan in 2005. Meanwhile, he earned a bachelor's degree in architecture from the University of Illinois and a master's in business from Webster University in 2002. He also was a Bronze Star recipient.

The 35-year-old was again deployed this year to Iraq, where he died Oct. 27 in Baghdad of injuries from a noncombat incident under investigation. He was assigned to Fort Lewis, Wash.

His survivors included his wife, Rebecca, and their children, Austin and Ashley.


Army Spc. Adrian L. Avila

Adrian Avila found ways to keep busy in the desert of Kuwait, but was perhaps best known for hunting scorpions.

"My husband Chris and Avila had just been hunting scorpions the night before this terrible tragedy," April Holderfield, who along with her husband served with Avila, wrote in an online message board.

James Owens, who wrote on the message board that he was Avila's roommate, said "it's not been the same without him coming in here every day all excited about some car he had seen online, or some scorpion he found out in the desert, or telling me about some gun he had seen."

"He was a great kid who was always happy and he will be missed very much."

Avila, 19, of Opelika, Ala., died Oct. 29 at Khabari Crossing, Kuwait, after a noncombat incident. The Alabama Army National Guardsman was assigned to Fort Payne.

His mother, Donna Lawson, said her son joined to serve his country and make something of himself.

"He always cared more for others than he did for himself," she said. "He had a hard life, but he wasn't going to let anyone bring him down."

Avila is also survived by his father, Ruben Avila.


Army Staff Sgt. Bradley Espinoza

Bradley Espinoza stood out in part because of his grin. It's what sticks with his mother, Magdalena, who recalls him as a man always making others laugh.

And it struck Chris Widell, who once led Espinoza's platoon and remembered him in an online message board posting as a smart, eager soldier.

"He had a bright smile that he could barely conceal, he worked hard, he trained hard and you could tell he wanted to be a leader," Widell wrote. After a fellow soldier died, Espinoza buckled down in his work, he said.

"He was more lean, more serious and he had a presence about him that gave his soldiers confidence," Widell wrote.

The 26-year-old from Mission, Texas, was killed by an explosive Oct. 19 in Qwest.

His uncle, Ralph Solis, said the Army told the family Espinoza died trying to disarm a bomb. Espinoza was assigned to Fort Hood.

He had joined the Army as a combat engineer in July 2002, shortly after graduating from Mission High School.

"He died doing what he wanted to do," his stepfather, Miguel de Leon, told the media in Spanish.

Espinoza's survivors include his wife, Maria; children, Joseph and Celeste; and four brothers and sisters.


Army Spc. Joseph L. Gallegos

When he was a boy, Joseph Gallegos once found a hawk with a broken wing, nursed it back to health, and let it go.

When he was working for the U.S. Forest Service in 2007, Gallegos came across a burning truck, saw a man inside and pulled him to safety. Gallegos — the lifesaver — took jobs as a firefighter, an ambulance driver and a policeman.

He served four years in the active Army. Later, he joined the New Mexico National Guard.

"He was always taking different jobs, but they always put him in the service of others," said the guardsman's brother Donald Gallegos. "He was always very proud of the fact that he was serving."

While serving in Tallil, Iraq, Gallegos died Oct. 28 of a heart attack. He was a vehicle mechanic with the 720th Transportation Company out of Las Vegas, N.M. He was 39 years old.

The youngest in a family of four girls and two boys, Gallegos was raised in Questa, N.M., by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Adonario Gallegos.

Gallegos graduated from Questa High School, and roomed with his cousin Jamie Archuleta at New Mexico Highlands University in the mid-1990s.

"He was very smart, one of the most intelligent guys I ever knew. He was also a caring guy, he cared about most everyone," Archuleta said.


Army Maj. Tad T. Hervas

The last e-mail Tad T. Hervas sent to his family was optimistic. He'd spent a couple of weeks on leave in September, fly fishing with one of his four brothers — never could have a bad day on the river, he'd always say — and was returning to Iraq.

"Everything's looking good," he wrote. "Hope to talk to you soon."

The 48-year-old from Coon Rapids, Minn., died days later, on Oct. 6 in Basra. He was found with a gunshot wound to the head in a noncombat incident under investigation. The Minnesota National Guardsman also had deployed to Iraq in 2004 and earned a Bronze Star.

"He came through so many things in his life," his father, Ned, said. "He lived on the edge."

The former Coon Rapids High School football player joined the Air Force ROTC at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and graduated in 1984.

He helped refuel planes in the first Gulf War, left the Air Force in 1991 and worked as a furnace installer before 9/11 spurred him to rejoin the military, his father said.

In his down time, he enjoyed cooking, playing with his dogs and hanging out with family.

He's also survived by his mother, sister and, his obituary noted, his fly fishing team.


Army Pfc. Lukas C. Hopper

Lukas Hopper's mother says his family expected him home for the holidays, and they were especially excited because the 20-year-old was away for Thanksgiving and Christmas last year.

Hopper joined the Army in January 2008 — just months after he started classes at Merced Junior College in California.

On Oct. 30, when he died, he was near completing a yearlong deployment to Iraq. He was killed southeast of Karadah in a vehicle roll-over, military officials said. He was assigned to Fort Bragg.

"Pfc. Hopper's great sense of humor, devotion to his fellow paratroopers, and his dedication to mission accomplishment set him apart from his peers. He will truly be missed," said Lt. Col. Dave Bair, Hopper's battalion commander.

Robin Hopper said her son probably began thinking about joining the military when he was in eighth grade. That was the school year he went on a field trip to the Pentagon and the site of the World Trade Center, just months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"He came back a little different from that trip," said Robin Hopper, an elementary school principal.

Hopper is survived by his mother and his father, Yancy Hopper; and sisters Chantal Hopper, 17, and Celeste Hopper, 15. The family lives in Merced, Calif.


Army Pfc. Daniel J. Rivera

Daniel J. Rivera had a large extended family and wanted to be a role model for his younger niece and cousins.

That's one reason he decided to enter the military as several of his older relatives had. Family members say the 22-year-old from Rochester, N.Y., also was not afraid of anything — even death.

Rivera died Oct. 18 in a vehicle accident in Mosul, Iraq. He was assigned to Fort Hood.

"He wanted to serve his county, and he was really proud of what he was doing. ... He just wanted to make the most of his life," said his mother, Myrian Rivera.

"He was the bravest of us all," his younger brother, David Walker, told the Democrat and Chronicle. He said he plans to join the Army next year in honor of his brother.

Rivera, a 2005 graduate of Victor High School, enjoyed playing soccer and baseball. He was planning a visit home around Thanksgiving.

Rivera also leaves behind a sister, Shadel Martinez.

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