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U.S. sacrifice: more than 100 lives; Rumsfeld, Cheney praise soldiers’ valor

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–They left behind their loved ones, their friends and their comfortable surroundings to liberate a country, dismantle a dictator and defend the freedom of their homeland, the United States of America.

Many will come back alive. Some will not.

The list of Americans killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, as of April 10, had grown to more than 100. Another 15 were listed as missing or prisoners of war.

The same day that Baghdad fell, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld addressed the family members of those who have died in battle.

“As you watch these historic things unfold, take enormous pride in the service of your loved ones,” he said in a Pentagon briefing. “They made this possible. Their sacrifice is permitting the liberation of a people and the end of a regime that, thanks to them, will never again threaten the world with its weapons.”

Rumsfeld also cautioned Americans that more war deaths are yet ahead.

“There’s a lot more fighting that’s going to be done,” he said. “There are — more people are going to be killed; let there be no doubt. This is not over, despite all the celebrations on the street.”

Saddam Hussein, Rumsfeld said, “is now taking his rightful place alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Ceausescu in the pantheon of failed, brutal dictators, and the Iraqi people are well on their way to freedom.”

The same day, Vice President Dick Cheney praised the military forces on the ground as well as those who were there before the war even started — also known as Special Operations Forces.

“In the current conflict, forces sent in early protected the 600 oil fields in southern Iraq, prevented an environmental catastrophe, and safeguarded a resource that’s vital for the future of the people of Iraq. During Operation Desert Storm (in 1991), Saddam managed to fire Scud missiles at Israel and Saudi Arabia. This time was different, again, thanks to Special Operations Forces, which seized control of the missile launch baskets in western Iraq, preventing their use by the enemy.”

Since the war began, Baptist Press has written stories about soldiers who were members of Southern Baptist churches, soldiers who had family members in a Southern Baptist church and those who were simply known as evangelical Christians. The stories are intended to relay the spiritual side of a solder’s life that is rarely told.

Following is a compilation of those stories, as well as a few new ones. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Baptist Press relies on research, as well as tips from its readers, for these stories.


NOLEN RYAN HUTCHINGS — Marine Pvt. Hutchings of Boiling Springs, S.C., has been missing since a firefight on the outskirts of Nasiriyah, Iraq, in late March. His Marine unit was based in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Hutchings is a member of Northbrook Baptist Church in Boiling Springs, S.C., where Ralph Brown once served as pastor. Brown knew Hutchings and now serves at a church just a few miles down the road.

Brown told Baptist Press that during the Christmas holidays last year, Hutchings dropped by his house to say hello.

“He and my wife and myself knelt in our den,” Brown said. “We all held hands. He told me he was going to be shipped out. He told me, ‘I can’t tell you where I’m going. It’s classified.'”


PATRICK MILLER — Army Pfc. Miller of Park City, Kan., was captured March 23 when his convoy, part of the 507th Maintenance Company stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, was ambushed around Nasiriyah.

Miller and his wife, Jessa, were married at Olivet Baptist Church in Wichita, Kan. During the marriage counseling, Miller accepted Christ.

Bobby Massey, the pastor of Valley Center (Kan.) Assembly of God who has known Miller for some 10 years, said Miller visited his church as a youth. “Obviously, all the churches in town have him on their prayer chain,” Massey told Baptist Press.


TRISTAN N. AITKEN — Army Capt. Aitken of State College, Pa., was killed in action April 4. His Army unit was based in Fort Stewart, Ga.

Aitken is remembered as a Christian who, as a student at Texas Christian University, spent his spring break on the beaches of Florida witnessing.

“He went to preach the Gospel on the beach,” his father, Ronald Aitken, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

His father is retired from the Navy, the newspaper said.

“His faith sustained him,” the elder Aitken told the Post-Gazette. “It was his shield. … He was a rock.”

Aitken made a videotape for his family in case he was killed in combat. They watched it after receiving word of his death.

“He said, ‘If you’re listening to this, I’m gone,'” his mother, Ruth Aitken, told the Fort-Worth Star Telegram. “He said, ‘If I don’t make it back, I feel my life was put to good purpose. I know where I’ll be.'”

HOWARD JOHNSON II — Army Pfc. Johnson of Mobile, Ala., was killed in action in late March. He was assigned to the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company in Fort Bliss, Texas.

His father is Howard Johnson, pastor of Truevine Baptist Church in Prichard, Ala.

“He was God’s gift to us and the Lord has taken him away,” Johnson said in an Associated Press story.

Before Johnson’s son was deployed, the pastor told him to conduct himself in a Christian manner.

“No matter what anybody else did — drinking, doing drugs, what have you — remember that he was not to partake of that. Keep yourself clean, so the Lord will be on his side,” Johnson said in the story.

Church members praised the younger Johnson’s service.

“He served all over the church, was active in the Sunday School and active in the children’s ministry,” church member Andretta Thomas said, according to The Birmingham News. “He was a productive young man at the church. I think all of us are torn up about it.”

JAMES M. KIEHL — Army Spc. Kiehl of Comfort, Texas, was killed in late March when his convoy, part of the 507th Maintenance Company based in Fort Bliss, Texas, was ambushed. One of those soldiers, Jessica Lynch, was later rescued.

Kiehl was saved and baptized days before going to battle. His baptism was videotaped by a television crew and broadcast on a Texas television station. His parents attend Comfort Baptist Church.

“It has been a tremendous help to them — that James had made a decision for Christ and followed Him with baptism,” Comfort Baptist Church pastor Jim Holt told Baptist Press.

Kiehl had wanted to be in the Army since he was a young boy. Kiehl’s wife, Jill, is pregnant with their first child, according to WHO-TV in Des Moines, Iowa, where her parents live. He was a member of the high school’s marching band and basketball team. He was also tall — 6-foot-8, the television station reported.

Kiehl had given Jill two teddy bears before he was deployed, USA Today reported. One was for her, the other for their unborn son. He also gave her a recorder with a message from him so that their son could hear his voice, the newspaper reported.

PATRICK NIXON — Marine Lance Cpl Nixon of Gallatin, Tenn., was killed in action during operations on the outskirts of Nasiriyah, Iraq, in late March. His parents are members of College Heights Baptist Church in Gallatin.

Nixon was proud of his service to his country, College Heights pastor Larry Gilmore said he was told by the parents.

“He was very much aware of what he was doing,” Gilmore said. “He loved his country and he loved [the American] flag, and he was willing to be a part of defending that flag. He felt like he was doing the right thing.”

Nixon was a graduate of Overton High School and had joined the military in hopes of one day becoming a history teacher, The Tennessean newspaper reported. He was assigned to the military base in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

BRANDON U. SLOAN — Army Pvt. Sloan of Bedford, Ohio, was killed when his convoy, part of the 507th Maintenance Company from Fort Bliss, Texas, was ambushed.

Sloan’s father, Tandy Sloan, is a pastor at the Historical Greater Friendship Church in Cleveland.

“I am trusting in the Lord,” the elder Sloan told The New York Times. “I know the Lord is still able. … Being a pastor does not insulate you from the hurt, the pain, the anger.”

The family issued a statement after Sloan’s death.

“Throughout this entire ordeal, the love of God, and our continued faith have sustained us,” it read. “Though we are engaged in conflict in the Middle East, we believe that God is in control.”

Brandon Sloan was popular and played football on his high school team, The Times reported.

MICHAEL J. WILLIAMS — Marine Lance Cpl. Williams of Yuma, Ariz., was killed in action during a firefight around Nasiriyah, Iraq, in late March. His Marine unit was based in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

He was a member of North Phoenix (Ariz.) Baptist Church, where he was baptized around the age of 10. He rededicated his life shortly before deployment.

Dottie Kendig, an administrative assistant at the church, knows Williams’ mother and had spoken with her after the news broke.

“Her only comments are that whatever happens, whatever is done, that God be glorified in the entire situation,” Kendig told Baptist Press. “That’s really the bottom line as far as she’s concerned.”

Williams worked at a flooring business until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, forever changed his path, according to The New York Times. The attacks so bothered him that he joined the Marines. Because of his age, many of the younger soldiers called him “Pops,” the newspaper reported.

While on the ship on his way to Iraq, he proposed to his girlfriend via e-mail, The Times reported. She had said “yes.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: HIGHER CALLING.

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  • Michael Foust