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BY REBECCA J. BARNABI
If a reminder is needed that real people are behind the statistics of military personnel killed overseas, then a memorial event in Colonial Beach on Friday is designed to be just that.
At noon Friday, red balloons will be released at the American Legion post on Colonial Avenue in memory of soldiers, sailors and Marines killed overseas in wartime. The American Legion is covering some of the cost of the helium to inflate the balloons, and refreshments will be provided by the Ladies Auxiliary.
The Balloons for Our Soldiers event comes on the eighth anniversary of a suicide bombing in Iraq that killed two area soldiers: Sgt. David Ruhren of Stafford County and Sgt. Nick Mason of King George county.
Ruhren and Mason were among 21 American soldiers who died in the mess hall bombing in Mosul, Iraq, in 2004. Ruhren's mother, Sonja Ruhren, has organized other Balloons for Our Soldiers events in the area and is expected to attend Friday's ceremony.
Colonial Beach Town Councilman Tim Curtin served with Ruhren and Mason and was 30 miles south of Mosul at Forward Operating Base Endurance when they were killed. He said he felt a "calling" to organize Friday's event.
"There was something inside of me that said I needed to do this," Curtin said.
Curtin said he met Ruhren and Mason during drill weekends for the National Guard at the Dahlgren naval base.
The three were part of the 229th Engineer Battalion based in Fredericksburg before being transferred to C Company, 276th Engineer Battalion in Richmond. C Company comprised four platoons, and Curtin joined a different platoon than Ruhren and Mason.
Curtin said he remembers seeing the news alert on TV in the FOB Endurance lunchroom. When aerial photos showed the Mosul mess hall on fire, he said, he realized that soldiers he knew had been killed.
He said Dec. 21 is a tough day each year for him. He said he hopes that this year's event in Colonial Beach will make it more bearable.
"I thought it would get easier over the years," Curtin said.