Five Soldiers with Texas Ties Die in Iraq

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DALLAS — Five soldiers with ties to Texas were killed in Iraq over the past week, the Army said Monday.

Spc. Braden J. Long, 19, of Sherman, Texas, died after the Humvee he was riding in was hit in a grenade attack Saturday. He was a member of the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kan.

On Thursday, Staff Sgt. Fernando Santos of San Antonio, 29, and Spc. Eric D. Salinas of Houston, 25, died when an improvised explosive device exploded near their vehicle, the Pentagon said. Another soldier, Army Spc. Cristian Rojas-Gallego, 24, Loganville, Ga.; was killed in the Thursday explosion. All three were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis, Washington.

Sgt. Dustin S. Wakeman, 25, of Fort Worth, Texas, was one of three soldiers killed Saturday when the vehicle in which they were riding was struck by an explosive device near Hawr Rajab, Iraq, the Pentagon said. Also killed were Pfc. Jaron D. Holliday, of Tulsa., Okla., and Cpl. Jason K. Lafleur, 28, of Ignacio, Colo. They were members of the Army's 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division based in Fort Richardson, Alaska.

Santos was raised by his grandparents and joined the military in 1997 after earning his GED. He had lived at Fort Lewis with his wife, Adonia, their three children, ages 6 months, 15 months, and 7 years, and a 16-year-old stepson, family members said.

"Everybody wanted to be him. He was really funny, quirky. He made everybody laugh. He was strong," Adonia Santos said in a story in the San Antonio Express-News.

Salinas was born in Harlingen and grew up Primera and Houston. He leaves behind a 4-year-old son, said his aunt, Gracie DeLeon of Houston.

"He was the clown of the family. He was always making everybody laugh. He was always coming out with silly things to do to entertain us," DeLeon said in a Monday story in the Valley Morning Star. "He was a great person."

Wakeman enlisted in the Army three years ago, partly in search of self-discipline, said his father, David Wakeman. Dustin Wakeman seemed to find that discipline, his father said. He was trained as a medic and spoke of pursuing a medical career. He deployed to Iraq in October.

"He like helping people," David Wakeman said in the online edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "He found that fulfilling."

A soldier assigned to the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood was killed Sunday. Army Spc. Charles E. Leonard, Jr., 29, Monroe, La., died in Baghdad when his vehicle was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade.

Meanwhile, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joey D. Link, 29, Portland, Tenn., died Sunday of natural causes at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. He was assigned to the 39th Airlift Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas.