Friday, August 26, 2005

LTC Kurilla back home...

Storied Iraq soldier recuperating By Alex Fryer Seattle Times staff reporter JIM MACMILLAN / AP Army Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla, of the Fort Lewis-based Stryker Brigade, held an Iraqi man for questioning in Mosul in December, a day after an insurgent attack nearby. Erik Kurilla, right, and an Iraqi interpreter questioned Iraqi men in a trucking yard while searching for insurgents after a four-hour running gunbattle in Mosul on Feb. 12. Nine insurgents were killed after attacking U.S. troops. Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla is out of Iraq, recovering from gunshot wounds in a Tacoma hospital.Although not well-known, Kurilla — the highest ranking soldier from the Fort Lewis-based Stryker Brigade to be seriously wounded in battle — has a dedicated following on the Internet. For more than eight months, a blog written by independent journalist Michael Yon has chronicled the battles, strategies and sorrows of Kurilla's unit, the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry ("Deuce Four"). Yon's periodic dispatches often describe details and tactics of the Iraq war not found in the mainstream media. Kurilla is portrayed as tough, dedicated and possessed with an uncanny ability to avoid enemy bullets. That changed last Friday when Kurilla was shot during close combat. To see pictures and read dispatches about Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla : In a harrowing series of photographs, Yon captures the moment Kurilla fell. The images along with Yon's narrative are posted on his Web site: Shot in the arm and leg, Kurilla was taken to a combat hospital and later airlifted to Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma. Yesterday, he declined to release the status of his condition.Military-related sites on the Internet lighted up with news of Kurilla's injuries, indicating national interest in the fate of the 49-year-old Tacoma resident.A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Kurilla received his commission as a second lieutenant in May 1988. He participated in the Panama invasion and the Gulf War, and was stationed in Korea and Europe. Last fall, Kurilla deployed with the 1st Stryker Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, which patrols Mosul, a mostly Sunni Arab city of 2 million. His 700-soldier battalion experienced some of the fiercest fighting of the war. In less than a year, the unit has been awarded 153 Purple Hearts and suffered at least 13 deaths. Kurilla is known both by locals and visiting journalists in Mosul. Reporters from The Associated Press, Chicago Tribune and other organizations quoted Kurilla as he explained the insurgency and efforts to train Iraqi forces. Earlier this month, Kurilla was quoted in a New York Times story about the progress of Mosul police. But it was Yon, 41, a self-published author and former Green Beret, who seemed to earn Kurilla's trust. A self-described "independent, informed observer chronicling the monumentally important events in the efforts to stabilize Iraq," Yon solicits donations on his Web site to buy equipment and defray expenses. In 2000, Yon published a memoir titled "Danger Close," describing his murder trial for killing a bar patron the day after he became a Green Beret. He was acquitted. In his blog, Iraqi insurgents are "terrorists" and the United States is making progress in its nation-building efforts. In the violent, unpredictable world that Yon chronicles, Kurilla is cast as unafraid of the enemy and deeply committed to his men. Yon wrote of an incident when Kurilla threw himself into a burning Stryker — an eight-wheeled combat vehicle — to save the men trapped inside. Of the Deuce Four, Yon noted: "One young soldier told me, 'This is my family. Colonel Kurilla is like my dad. He would die for me.' "Last week, Kurilla and his men chased a black car through Mosul.W hen an Army marksman in a helicopter disabled the car, the men inside fled, and opened fire.

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