Two soldiers from Fort Bragg were killed Tuesday in Diyala Province northeast of Baghdad, bringing to five the number of paratroopers from the base killed in Iraq in less than a week.
Their deaths are part of a new spike in casualties as U.S. forces hunt pockets of extremists north of Baghdad.
Spc. Miguel A. Baez, 32, of Bonaire, Ga., and Sgt. John C. Osmolski, 23, of Eustis, Fla., were wounded when an improvised bomb exploded during a combat operation on foot near the city of Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles from the Iraqi capital. Both men, with the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, were evacuated to a field hospital, where they died. Their unit was near the end of its tour of duty and may have been days away from leaving Iraq.
A soldier from the New York-based 10th Mountain Division, Sgt. Timothy R. Van Orman, 24, of Port Matilda, Pa., died after being wounded in the same explosion, according to a Pentagon news release.
Another Fort Bragg soldier was wounded by a bomb near the same town Sunday and died the next day. A fourth paratrooper died Tuesday at a U.S. base in southern Iraq of injuries unrelated to combat, and a fifth was killed by mortar fire in southern Baghdad on Jan. 31.
Although violence in Iraq has generally dropped in recent months, American casualties began rising again in January as the military pushed more troops into Diyala and the city of Mosul to target Sunni extremists driven out of Baghdad and Anbar province by the U.S. troop buildup that began a year ago. Forty American troops were killed in Iraq in January, according to icasualties.org, up from 23 in December. Nine have been killed so far this month.
Diyala has seen some of the fiercest fighting since early January, when the U.S.-led coalition kicked off a major operation there to root out an estimated 200 members of al-Qaida in Iraq.
Baez was an assistant machine gunner and "the best kind of soldier," said Kevin Spooner, Baez's company first sergeant, in a news release from the 82nd Airborne Division. "He always volunteered and never hesitated to help out a brother."
Baez joined the Army in May 2005 and came to the 82nd that fall. His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star.
"He was a clown, a loving father and a wonderful husband, he'll be greatly missed," said Spooner.
Baez is survived by his wife, Elena Deer-Baez; his children, Selena, Miguel, Aaliyah, and Breanna, all of Fort Bragg; and his parents, Miguel A. Baez, Jr. and Ramona Baez, of Byron, Ga.
Osmolski was a combat engineer, and a good one, said his company commander, Maj. James Downing.
"He was a future leader in the engineer world," Downing said in a news release.
Osmolski joined the Army in January 2005 and arrived at Bragg that summer. He had been deployed for combat once before, in Afghanistan from July 2005 to November 2005. His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star.
"He was an adopted brother to the platoon," said 1st Lt. Andres Donoso. "Everyone loved him."
He is survived by his mother, Ruth E. Osmolski, of Powhatan, Va.