An N.C. National Guard soldier from Apex was killed Friday in Iraq, becoming the fifth Guard soldier with a small, Rocky Mount-based unit to die in Iraq in less than a month.
Sgt. Lance O. Eakes, 25, was killed after an improvised bomb detonated near his truck. Two other soldiers with the unit were wounded but are expected to survive.
The men apparently were returning from a typical mission for their unit -- training Iraqi police officers -- when the bomb detonated, said Maj. Matt Handley, a spokesman for the N.C. Guard in Raleigh.
Eakes was assigned to the 1132nd Military Police Company. That 120-member unit lost two men from North Carolina and a third with a small group of New Hampshire Guard soldiers attached to the 1132nd in a similar bomb blast March 22. Another North Carolina man was killed in a mortar attack on a forward operating base in Baghdad that also left 17 soldiers wounded, most of them from the 1132nd.
Eakes was the ninth N.C. National Guard soldier killed in action in Iraq or Afghanistan.
There are just 120 citizen soldiers in the 1132nd, and their families are scattered from the mountains to the coast, though many are clustered near the unit's headquarters.
Eakes' family members, speaking through the National Guard, asked the media Monday not to contact them. Eakes' father, John, talked about him to a National Guard public affairs officer, who issued a news release Monday.
Eakes graduated from Apex High School in 2001. He loved competitive kickboxing, his father said.
Eakes studied at Karate International of Apex for several years and won several karate competitions, said Wade Houston, who owns the school.
"He was definitely a great competitor," Houston said.
Eakes moved on to another school after deciding that he wanted to study a different, rougher, style of martial arts, Thai kickboxing.
Houston talked with Eakes on the phone shortly before the young Guard soldier left for Iraq. Eakes talked enthusiastically about his training regimen and the competitions he had won.
Eakes enlisted in the Guard in 2003. Like many soldiers, part of the reason he signed up was the 2001 terrorist attacks, his father, John Eakes, said in the release.
"He couldn't believe what happened on 9/11," his father said.
Eakes planned to pursue a career in law enforcement, his father said; that was why he wanted to be an MP. It was his second tour in Iraq. The first, with another military police unit, was in 2004 and 2005.
His parents said he wanted to be in Iraq.
"He wouldn't trade being there [on the current assignment] for anything in the world," his father said.
When he was killed, Eakes was a corporal. The Guard announced late Monday that it had promoted him to sergeant posthumously.
Survivors include his father and mother, Tammy Eakes, both of Wake County.
The 1132nd Military Police Company is expected home sometime this summer.