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Officer haunted by loss of his men
Guardsman recalls fateful day in 2004 when two of his soldiers were killed in a mess-tent bombing

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Date published: 11/11/2012

By RUSTY DENNEN

It's been nearly eight years since Ed Lewis went through one of the worst days of his life.

The date was Dec. 21, 2004, and Lewis--then a second lieutenant and sapper platoon leader of an Army National Guard unit in Mosul, Iraq--had just lost two of his men in a mess-tent suicide bombing that claimed 22 lives.

One moment, Sgt. Nicholas Mason of King George County and Sgt. David Ruhren of Stafford County, were having chow at the mess hall. The next, they were gone. Another man in the unit, Spc. Richard Hursh, of Stafford, was badly wounded.

Lewis, 32, now a major working full time for the Guard, is still haunted by the memories of that carnage. For the first time, he's put his memories on paper as part of a course at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He and his family live in Spotsylvania.

"One of the topics was to describe my most significant day" in the military, Lewis said in a telephone interview.

Lewis, assigned to C company of the 276th Engineer Battalion out of West Point, Va., got to know Mason and Ruhren during pre-mobilization training at Fort Dix, N.J.

"Both of them had magnetic personalities, great sense of humor," Lewis said. "But they knew when to turn the humor off and get into the game-time mode."

Lewis recalled an incident in Iraq when Mason lost his key to the steel "hooch" where he slept.

"He got a new key, but it was attached to an 11- by 14-[inch] sheet of plate steel," Lewis said with a chuckle. "He had to carry it wherever he went."

While some soldiers might have complained, Lewis said, "He turned it into [a challenge]. He embraced it."

Ruhren, he said, had the same drive and attitude.

Prior to the unit's departure, Lewis talked with Ruhren's mother, Sonja, assuring her that he would do all he could to bring her son back safely.

Mason and Ruhren, both 20, were adjusting to their first stint in a combat zone at Forward Operating Base Marez.


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A few excerpts from Army National Guard Maj. Ed Lewis' recent military course paper about one deadly day in Iraq in 2004:

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, at least 29 service members from the Fredericksburg area have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Overall, nearly 6,700 U.S. troops have died, with more than 50,000 wounded.

--Department of Defense, icasualties.org