National Guard member from Morton killed in Iraq

Spc. Brent W. Koch
Spc. Brent W. Koch, 22, of Morton, Minnesota, died Friday in Iraq when an explosive device detonated hear his military vehicle.
Photo courtesy of Minnesota National Guard

(AP) - A National Guard member from Morton was killed in Iraq when an explosive device detonated near his military vehicle, the Minnesota National Guard announced Sunday.

Spc. Brent W. Koch, 22, died Friday in Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq, the Guard said. Two other Minnesota soldiers were injured in the explosion.

"(Koch) was the kind of kid that you would want with you if you were over there fighting a war. He was committed and mature beyond his years," Cedar Mountain School District Superintendent Bob Tews said.

Koch graduated in 2002 from Cedar Mountain High School, where he played football and basketball, Tews said.

In Morton, members of the local American Legion post put up American flags along the streets of the southwestern Minnesota town in Koch's honor.

"He was a very good kid and he wanted to go into the military and serve for our country," said Dave Mude, as he took a break from hanging flags from utility poles.

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Koch enlisted in the Guard four years ago and was serving as a combat engineer. His unit's job was providing convoy security.

Maj. Kevin Olson, a spokesman for the Minnesota National Guard, said Koch was unmarried and had no children.

Koch's family members were not taking calls from the media on Sunday but issued a statement through the Guard.

"We are very grateful for the overwhelming amount of support from our family, friends and the community," they said in a statement read by Lt. Col. Kevin Gutknecht. "Thank you for your thoughts and prayers at this time."

Olson did not release the names of the injured soldiers. He said one received shrapnel wounds to the upper body, and the other received shrapnel wounds to the lower body. They were being transferred to a U.S. military hospital in Germany.

Koch was assigned to the Minnesota Army National Guard's Company E, 2nd Battalion, 136th Infantry Combined Arms Battalion in Redwood Falls. Another 79 members of the company are due to remain in Iraq through next spring.

His unit was part of a deployment in March of 2,600 other Minnesota Guard members for a 12-month tour of duty, the Minnesota Guard's largest deployment since World War II.

"We are focusing our efforts on helping the family members cope through this difficult time," Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito, Minnesota's adjutant general, said in a statement. "Additionally, our thoughts and prayers are with those who serve with this honorable soldier."

Jeff Gay, a family support coordinator for the Guard in Redwood Falls, was there the day Koch enlisted and praised him as a dependable soldier.

"Specialist Koch was fired up about coming into the Guard, it seemed like," Gay said. "Very well liked among the other soldiers. Anytime anything needed to be done, extra duty, he was always there to help us."

Koch is the 39th person with Minnesota ties to die in connection with the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was the fourth Minnesota National Guard fatality in Iraq, Olson said. Funeral arrangements were pending.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)