Friday, January 28, 2022
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The flag outside Montevideo City Hall flies at half staff (MPR photo/Mark Steil)
The Iraq war came home with deadly impact this week to a cluster of western Minnesota towns. The National Guard released details Wednesday in the deaths of three soldiers from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery. At the unit's headquarters in Montevideo, soldiers and citizens mourned, and wondered about the loss.

Montevideo, Minn. — The few details released by the military underscored the uncertainty and difficulty of determing exactly what happens in a war zone. Friends and family of the soldiers say the three, 1st Lt. Jason Timmerman, Staff Sgt. David Day, and Sgt. Jesse Lhotka, saved lives in the moments before theirs were taken.

The Guard said the men were on routine patrol in Baghdad at about 8:15 a.m. Monday when one of the military vehicles was involved in an accident that injured two Minnesota Guard members. The convoy stopped to help those soldiers, and the roadside bomb then detonated, killing Timmerman, Day and Lhotka.

"I do know that the three soldiers who were killed were in the act of helping the soldiers from the vehicle accident when the IED went off," says Lt. Bryan Watters. "Other than that, I can't be any more detailed, I don't have any other details."

The spare military description of the event leaves many questions unanswered. Lt. Watters could not say if the Minnesota soldiers were the victims of a careful trap, or of a deadly coincidence.

It's possible that on that Baghdad road, the Humvee overturned at the worst possible spot -- a location where a previous, random bomb was in place, and was triggered when the troops went to the rescue. The two soldiers injured when the Humvee rolled over were not identified. One is in stable condition, the other has returned to duty.

The unanswered questions deal with the facts and consequences of death in war. If the military is unable to answer all questions about the exact circumstances of the soldiers' deaths, residents of the Montevideo area were easily able to describe the emotional consequences.

Stopping on Montevideo's main street to talk, Jennifer Lund of Dawson said she knows a dozen or so soldiers in the 151st.

"It brought tears to my eyes just thinking about them and their families, hoping that the rest of them can get home safely," says Lund. "A gal I work with, her husband is over there, so we were crossing our fingers and praying that it wasn't going to be him that we heard about. And he's safe, he called and said he was safe, so that was great news."

The story of the soldiers' death inevitably carries with it a re-examination of the war and its progress. Joyce Olson of Watson says two members of her church are with the 151st Field Artillery in Iraq. She mourns the three deaths, but says they died fighting for a just cause, against terrorists determined to kill Americans.

"These young guys that are over there -- it's just too bad. I hate to see them over there," says Olson. "I guess I'd rather see the war over there in Iraq and Afghanistan or where they're fighting now. When they bombed the Twin Towers it was terrible, and that was just real tragic, it felt like it was just right here in Minnesota."

The high cost of the war in Iraq bothers Harold Ilaug of Montevideo. A veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, Ilaug thinks the U.S. was probably too hasty in launching the Iraq war.

"I don't think we should be responsible for policing the world. There's a lot of lives lost," says Ileug. "But we have to do what we can and get these guys home. That would be nice. I think of the families, man, it tears them up."

Ilaug says as a veteran, he's seen combat and the lessons it teaches. Among them -- be wary of war.

The soldiers from the 151st are now part of the long roll of soldiers from this part of Minnesota killed defending their country. At the National Guard armory the flag is at half staff, and signs around town offer support for the families of the three. No details have been released on when services for the soldiers will be held.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)