Nation & World

Four Marines from N.C. base among Iraq combat casualties

The Defense Department has identified four North Carolina-based Marines, including one N.C. native, who died over the weekend during combat in Anbar province, Iraq.

The military announced Monday the deaths of Lance Cpl. Clifford R. Collinsworth, 20, of Chelsea, Mich.; Lance Cpl. Nathan R. Elrod, 20, of Salisbury; Lance Cpl. Nicholas J. Manoukian, 22, of Lathrup Village, Mich., and Cpl. Joshua C. Watkins, 25, of Jacksonville, Fla.

Collinsworth, Elrod and Manoukian were members of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment of the 2nd Marine Division. Watkins was a member of the division's 2nd Tank Battalion. They were based at Camp Lejeune, which has thousands of Marines in Anbar.

Six other servicemen from the same division died in the same area a little more than a week ago. Before announcing the most recent deaths, the military said 83 American troops had been killed in combat in October - the highest monthly toll this year.

Elrod's parents, who live outside Salisbury near the town of Rockwell, were told by the military on Saturday of their son's death, which came on his second tour in Iraq, The Salisbury Post reported Tuesday. The town lowered flags to half staff and Rockwell's AMVETS Post 845 will hold three moments of silence daily until Elrod is buried.

Elrod had told his best friend, Lauren McLelland of Salisbury, that he wanted her to make sure if he died that his parents, Tim and Teresa Elrod, and his sister, Shannon Elrod, knew he loved them, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

"I'm not scared of dying," he had told McLelland. "I'm scared of what it's going to do to my family and friends."

Watkins was almost a week away from returning home, his family told The Florida Times-Union for Tuesday's edition.

Watkins died Saturday after getting shot in the stomach while on foot patrol in Fallujah. Military doctors struggled for four hours in attempts to save him, his mother, Amy Watkins-Vazquez said.

"He was supposed to come home next Tuesday and instead we're going to bury him," Watkins-Vazquez said. "He's coming home, but not the way I want."

Manoukian studied art at Oakland University and joined the Marines in June 2004, The Detroit News reported. He recently married his long-term girlfriend and returned to Iraq last month for a second tour of duty.

Manoukian enjoyed "doing something to be proud of," said his mother, Mary Manoukian Calhoun. "He had the need to challenge himself. He liked being part of a brotherhood."

Information about the other soldiers wasn't immediately available.

As of Sunday, an Associated Press count showed at least 2,796 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, including seven civilians employed by the military. The Department of Defense tally shows at least 2,230 have died in combat.