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Two CNMI Soldiers Killed



Wednesday November 2, 2005

By Gemma Q. Casas and Moneth G. Deposa
Marianas Variety

Two local reservists lost their lives in bomb attacks Monday night in Iraq. Officials identified the casualties as Sgt. Wilgene Lieto, 28, and Army Specialist Jeff Derrence Jack, 32.

The two were with Company E, 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry which was deployed to Iraq in January. They were killed while on patrol in Balad, some 42 miles north of Baghdad. Their deaths bring to three the total number of CNMI casualties in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in March 2003.

The first CNMI casualty was Sgt. Eddie Chen, a former police officer. Lieto, a former police officer, left behind two children — 3 and 4 years old. His wife, Tiara, said they last spoke hours before he was killed in the bomb attack. "It was so weird. He sounded tired, not getting enough sleep. But he sounded happy. He was just counting the days (left before he could) come home," she said. Her husband was supposed to return to the CNMI in Jan. 2006.

She said her husband's last words were, "I have to go. I have to go on patrol." Mrs. Lieto, 26, said she didn't want her husband to go to Iraq.

She said she was expecting the worst to happen but when she learned about her husband's death on Tuesday morning she was shocked.

"I always told myself to expect the worst," she said. With her husband now dead, she said she doesn't know what to make of the war in Iraq anymore. Sgt. Lieto was a police officer with the Department of Public Safety before he was called to active military duty in January.

Mrs. Lieto described her husband as a "selfless man," who always looked after the welfare of others. "He was a good man. He was not a man of many words but he was a very respectful man. He was very patient, very determined. He made me laugh and happy," she said.

Lieto's aunt, Remy Repeki, said she was deeply saddened over the turn of events. "I cannot really express how I feel right now," she said. "He was a very good person. Very humble." Melisa Jack, wife of Jeffrey Derence Jack, said she didn't expect her husband to be a war casualty. She said her husband last spoke with her on the morning of his death. "He called me (yesterday) to wish me a happy wedding anniversary," she said, adding that they celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary on Oct. 30. She said her husband's last words were "that he loved me… and that he just called to say happy wedding anniversary — he was the love of my life." They have a four-year-old daughter. Mrs. Jack said she and her daughter were planning to fly to Hawaii in January to meet with her husband.

She said she received the sad news about 8 a.m. yesterday from military officials. Mrs. Jack said her husband died a hero.

"It doesn't matter if there's a need to deploy more soldiers in Iraq or not. What I know is he just did his job…and we're very proud of him," she said. Army Specialist Jeff Derrence Jack, who would have turned 32 on Nov. 17, was a former cash manager at Bank of Guam on Saipan.

He enlisted in the military in 1999. Mrs. Jack said she tried to convince her husband not to go to Iraq as he had a good-paying job on island.

But, she added, "he really wanted to be in the military." Mrs. Jack, 28, is a former legal secretary who quit her job to look after their daughter. She described her husband as a jolly person and a great father. "He was laughing all the time and made sure he provided us with all our needs…he was a great father and a loving husband," she said.

Nick Benjamin, older brother of Army Specialist Jack, said they were shocked by the news. "He was a great brother…this news really put the family in shock. We will really miss him," he said. "He was the only one in the family who was in the military," Benjamin said. There are more than 500 men and women from the Northern Marianas currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gov. Juan N. Babauta ordered all flags on the islands flown at half-staff for at least one week to honor the fallen soldiers.

"In time of grief, we have always come together as a community to show support for the families who are suffering such a tragic loss. I call on all of us to do that now. I have ordered all flags in the commonwealth to be flown at half-staff for a period of one week. Please remember all our soldiers and their families in your prayers," the governor said.

"This loss brings the war in Iraq home to our doorstep. It reminds us that our people and our nation have always stood against tyranny. And it reminds us of the terrible price freedom sometimes exacts," he added