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Eight service members lost in Iraq

by Amy Kingsley

In his father’s favorite photograph, Lance Cpl. Adam Lucas is frozen mid-stride on a sunny day, clad in dress pants and a khaki shirt, smirking.

Sitting behind the steering wheel of his prized pickup truck in a picture taken by his fiancée is another grinning Adam, one that usually stays tucked inside his father’s wallet. His smile stands out in every high school picture clipped and Xeroxed by old friends into a makeshift memorial.

In fact, the only photograph Kevin Lucas displays where his son isn’t smiling is his Marine Corps portrait, for which Adam sets his mouth in a solemn line.

“He was my only son and my youngest child,” Kevin Lucas said. “And he was my buddy.”

Adam Lucas died on May 26, 2006 at the age of 20 while on patrol in the al Anbar province of Iraq. The marine had volunteered to be point man, the lead soldier in an expedition, even though it wasn’t his turn. When the group rounded a corner, an insurgent sniper shot the lance corporal in the head.

Lucas was the fifth Guilford County resident to die in the Iraq war. Since his death nearly a year ago, three more have died, the latest less than a month ago. Aside from Cumberland County, the home of Fort Bragg and of 10 troops killed in action, more residents of Guilford County have died in Iraq than any other county in North Carolina.

Since 2003 there have been eight military funerals. Those laid to rest have come from as far away as Brazil and west Africa. Three were marines and five were soldiers in the US Army.

Adam Lucas descended from a family thick with military experience. His father and grandfather served in the Air Force; his grandfather’s brother died in combat during World War II.

The elder Lucas tried to convince his son to join the Air Force, but by the fifth or sixth grade Adam Lucas had made up his mind to join the Marines, the smallest and most versatile branch of the Armed Forces.

“I think it was because of their reputation or maybe because they looked good in their uniforms,” Kevin Lucas said.

His son joined the junior Navy ROTC program as a freshman in high school, an activity he continued after his family moved from Mississippi to Greensboro. With the blessing of his parents, Adam Lucas pre-enlisted in the Marines during his senior year at Northwest High School, which he spent as the executive officer of his junior ROTC unit.

Even before he left for active duty, the marine always sought out challenges, Kevin Lucas said. He worked several jobs during high school, took part-time work with a police force while he was on base and tackled projects at home such as erecting a flagpole in the backyard.

His father said he wasn’t surprised his son volunteered for dangerous duty in Iraq.

“Marines have always been the sharp end of the stick,” said the Rev. Michael Usey, pastor at College Park Baptist Church in Greensboro, “but Andrew wanted to be on the very tip, the sharpened point.”

Lance Cpl. Andrew David Russoli died on Oct. 20, 2005 in Nasser Wa Salaam, a city in Iraq. He was 21 years old and had been a member of Usey’s church for 13 years. From the very first time Usey met him, when Russoli was 8, the boy seemed headed toward the military, the pastor said.

Russoli settled on the Marines by process of elimination.

“He thought the Army was cannon fodder,” Usey said. “The Navy was gone all the time and the Air Force were wusses.”

Russoli dressed as a fighter for every boyhood Halloween, according to Usey’s eulogy. When he received potty training, he arranged vast armies of toy soldiers on the bathroom floor.

As enthusiastic as he was about the idea of war, the reality of it had a different effect, Usey said. Between deployments Russoli confided that he could no longer watch some of his favorite war movies, and confessed that he’d been ordered to fire a tank gun into a crowd that included civilians.

“I don’t think he believed in [the mission],” Usey said. “I think he got to the place that a lot of soldiers get to where they don’t believe anymore whether it’s right or wrong, but they do believe in the guy next to them.”

Russoli served with dedication, Usey said. In his eulogy, the pastor noted that Russoli had been awarded the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during his first tour of duty. Nearby explosions had left him partially deaf in one ear, and shrapnel cut off a portion of the other a few days before he was killed.

Russoli died when he and his team pursued a tip that a bomb had been planted in a field as part of a plan to injure and intimidate civilians. As he and his team approached the bomb, insurgents watching from afar detonated it. The explosion killed Russoli instantly.

The congregation at College Park Baptist Church dates back 100 years. No members of the church died during World War I or World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War. Russoli was the first congregant to die in combat, and his absence has grieved the church, Usey said.

More than 1,000 people, many of them Marines, turned out for Russoli’s funeral. The medium-sized church brought in a JumboTron to accommodate the overflow crowd.

Six other Guilford-based servicemen, each with stories of their own, have died in Iraq. The following details were culled from obituaries: Cpl. Mark Anthony Bibby hailed from Down East – Pender County, to be exact – and attended NC A&T University. Sgt. Elmer Charles Krause, had a son and belonged to a large family, most of whom still live in California. Cpl. Felipe Barbosa distributed bandanas stitched with Bible verses and aspired to be an overseas missionary. Spc. Bobby Callahan had just married and credited the Army and his wife for keeping him on the straight and narrow. Sgt. Nicholas Gibbs enlisted in the Army three years after he graduated high school and loved Duke basketball. Spc. Ebe Firmin Emolo was born in Cote d’Ivoire and was older, at 33, than many of his fellow enlistees.

Compared to Guilford County, counties like Wake and Mecklenburg – with larger populations and higher rates of military enlistment – have had fewer combat deaths with five apiece. Three residents of Forsyth County and two from Durham have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Some counties with high rates of military recruitment may not show up on our list in any given year for one reason or another,” said Anita Dancs, research director for the National Priorities Project, a group that monitors military spending.

National Priorities Project’s research on military enlistment revealed that lower-middle income neighborhoods were more likely to be targeted by recruiters.

“Wealthy areas were very much underrepresented,” she said.

Areas adjacent to military bases, like Cumberland County in North Carolina, also have high enlistment rates, Dancs said, as do areas where recruiters have traditionally been successful.

“There does seem to be a pattern,” Dancs said. “There’s a definite shape to the curve.”

Greensboro has not recovered economically from the loss of textile jobs to overseas factories after NAFTA. The city is not far from major military installations in Cumberland and Onslow counties in a state known for its friendliness to the Armed Forces.

Still, none of those institutional factors fully explain why Russoli, Lucas and the others joined the military, and they say even less about why they died.

The Rev. Usey said he still expects Russoli to walk through the doors of his church behind his old friends. A year and a half later, his death still hasn’t fully sunk in.

The same goes for Kevin Lucas: He still hasn’t erased his son’s cell phone number from his speed dial. Adam Lucas’ truck is still parked in the driveway and his room is untouched.

“Maybe this year,” the father said, “I can start cleaning all that out.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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