Fort Sill shook by insurgent attack, loss of six soldiers

Tuesday, November 4th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

FORT SILL, Okla. (AP) _ Pfc. Steven Ball, just back from Iraq, was shocked to learn that 15 of his fellow troops were killed aboard a Chinook last weekend in Iraq.

``While they were just sitting there (in Iraq) all those days, they were OK,'' Ball, a track mechanic from Sterling, Colo., said Tuesday as he walked in the Lawton mall with his wife and kids. ``But when they were leaving for home, they got hit.''

Ball, his roughly 17,000 fellow soldiers at 133-year-old Fort Sill and the loyal residents of nearby Lawton were coping Tuesday with the loss of six soldiers in Sunday's attack.

``There's that natural sense of loss here,'' Chaplain Maj. Rob Meyer said. ``Six soldiers have died. You're aware of that, but you're not focused on it. We're focused on providing care for the families.''

News of the attack that also wounded six Fort Sill soldiers shook the post, the ``Home of the Artillery'' that does all artillery training for the U.S. Army.

It was the worst single-day toll for the southwest Oklahoma post in the war in Iraq. Fort Sill has lost 17 soldiers so far in the conflict.

Fort Sill soldiers killed were Staff Sgt. Paul Velazquez, 29, San Diego; Sgt. Steven Conover, 21, Wilmington, Ohio; Sgt. Keelan Moss, 23, Houston; Sgt. Ross Pennanen, 36, Shawnee; Staff Sgt. Joe N. Wilson, 30, Crystal Springs, Miss.; Sgt. Joel Perez, 25, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.

All six were assigned to 2nd battalion, fifth field artillery regiment.

Family support groups for spouses of deployed soldiers were springing to action to help those who lost a husband, son or father. Funeral arrangements were in the works even before the victims' names were released.

``The Army's a big family when you see and hear about soldiers that have lost their lives,'' Meyer said, artillery shells booming behind him in the training fields. ``We're all affected.''

Soldiers' families deal with the danger their loved ones face with a mixture of worry and resignation. Devotion to duty goes a long way toward easing nerves.

Amy Douglass' husband, an artillery officer, is back from Iraq after spending three months there this summer. Her ordeal was made easier because, as a former soldier, she understood what he was doing.

``I was worried about his safety but I got through it,'' said Douglass, 27, of Meadville, Penn. ``I just did it day by day, I guess.''

A co-worker of Douglass and Beryal Ryan lost her husband in fighting in Iraq this summer, the women said.

``She has an infant baby that's never going to know its father,'' said Ryan, 29, Raleigh, N.C. Ryan's husband, a battery commander, just missed being sent to Iraq.

``I have mixed feelings because I know it wasn't easy for him,'' she said. ``He probably wanted to go. It's his job.

``You just have to accept that that's what they do. There were wars before this one. Instead of being a CEO of a corporation, they're in the military.''

Lawton _ a town of about 100,000 people including the post, with an artillery cannon in the town square _ rallies around its troops. Everyone either works on post, is retired military or at least knows many soldiers.

Chris Rowzee, owner of The Tea Room restaurant downtown, knows what it's like to have a husband serving in dangerous territory overseas. Fred Rowzee served in Vietnam.

Sunday's attack ``comes as a shock to those young people who don't ...,'' Rowzee said, trailing off. Starting again, she said, ``The reality of war is a shock to people who see the military as a career.''

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