A missile strike in Iraq Thursday killed three Minnesota soldiers, all members of the National Guard's 34th Red Bull Infantry Division, family and friends said Friday.
One of those killed near Basra was Carlos Wilcox, 27, of Cottage Grove, whose mother said her son asked her to mail him books so he could study for a medical school entrance exam when he got home. "He knew that God had called him to be a soldier and a doctor," said Charlene Wilcox.
Dan Drevnick, 22, a graduate of Woodbury High School, was also killed in the attack. The third soldier, James Wertish, 20, was from Olivia.
"Three Multi-National Division-South Soldiers were killed when Contingency Operating Base Basra was attacked by indirect fire," the U.S. military said, referring to a mortar or rocket attack. The attack happened around 9:15 p.m. on Thursday.
Three Minnesota National Guard members also were killed in a single attack in February, 2005. The three, members of the 151st Field Artillery based in Montevideo, were killed when a roadside
bomb exploded under their convoy in Baghdad. That was apparently the costliest combat day for Minnesotans since nine were killed in Vietnam on May 5, 1968.
Wilcox's father died when he was 7, Charlene said, leaving her to raise four children as a single mother. Her son graduated from Tartan High School in Oakdale and attended Arizona State University and Inver Hills Community College before earning a degree in biology at Twin Cities-based Metropolitan State University, she said. Wilcox, who loved to travel, was fluent in Spanish and spent a semester studying abroad in Granada, Spain, she said.
Wilcox was in the process of applying to extend his tour, his mother said. In e-mails and calls home after his deployment this spring, Wilcox told his mother he was attending church and growing stronger in his faith. Charlene said she hadn't been told the circumstances of her son's death, but said his job in Basra was to help secure the base in case of an attack.
"My son died an honorable death, and I'm very proud of him," she said.
Drevnick's most recent job had been patrolling the inner perimeter of the base, said his father, Ken Drevnick of Woodbury. But he didn't know if his son had been on duty at the time of the attack.
Dan Drevnick had been home for two weeks until returning to Iraq July 8. He had 200 days of service remaining in Iraq and planned to return to get a degree in law enforcement, said Ken Drevnick, a retired Minnesota State Patrol officer.
His son joined the National Guard even after being asked if he was certain that's what he wanted by Ken Drevnick's brother and a friend who was a lifelong military man.
"He said, `I'm ready to go. I'll be fighting for my country.' He believed in it," Ken Drevnick said, adding that he gave his son his blessing.
Dan Drevnick was a part-time mechanic at Tires Plus in Woodbury and a full-time student at Century College in White Bear Lake before his deployment to Iraq in March. He and his father were also drag-racing partners, winning trophies at tracks all over the Midwest in Ken Drevnick's 1969 Camaro and, more recently, Dan Drevnick's own Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
His son made sure to spend time with his family as well as his friends whenever he was home, Ken Drevnick said.
"He didn't leave his elders behind," Ken Drevnick said. "Dan and I had the best father-son relationship I know of."
Wertish, who has two sisters and a brother, wanted to become a police officer but also loved working on his family's farm, said George Schmit, pastor of the family's church in Bird Island, Minn.
"Being on a tractor was one of his passions," he said.
Wertish joined the National Guard in 2006, the summer before his senior year at B.O.L.D. High School in Olivia.
Wertish had told his father recently that he was looking forward to coming home, Schmit said. On the Fourth of July, the family had a big get-together and talked to Wertish on the phone for more than an hour, Schmit said.
Red Bull duties
The Minnesota National Guard released no information about the deaths Friday but promised a statement when more information became available, said spokesman Paul Rickert.
In February 2009, more than 1,000 Minnesota National Guard troops left on a yearlong mission to Iraq. Among them were 275 military police based in Stillwater, and soldiers from the 34th Red Bull
Infantry Division based in Rosemount, Inver Grove Heights, Faribault and Stillwater.
The duties of military police include maneuvering and mobility, area security, internment and resettlement, law and order, and intelligence.
The 34th is providing leadership, command, logistics and communication support for four active-duty brigades of more than 16,000 multi-national coalition forces. Guard officials said they
provide both civil and military skills to help move the country toward independence and stability. The Minnesota group operates in the southern third of Iraq. They are expected to return home in
Before Thursday's deaths, 12 Minnesota National Guard members had been killed in Iraq.
The security situation in Iraq has improved dramatically in the last two years, though militants still carry out lethal attacks on a regular basis.
Although U.S. combat forces withdrew from Iraq's cities on June 30, thousands of troops remain stationed at bases outside urban areas.
The base struck by mortar rounds on Thursday, Contingency Operating Base Basra, is about 20 miles outside Basra, Iraq's second-largest city.
Britain, which had a large force in Basra, has ended combat operations and begun pulling out its troops. The British bases around the city and the airport were once subject to regular mortar barrages by Shiite militias believed to have received funding and training from Iran.
Last year, Iraqi forces, with U.S. support, routed Shiite militias from their strongholds in Basra.
Col. Butch Kievenaar, the top U.S. military commander in southern Iraq, said in a Defense Department briefing earlier this week that some Iraqi extremists who had gone to Iran have returned to the Basra region.
He said he believed they were pursuing criminal activities such as extortion, and there had been no clear sign that they had a "militia" agenda.
He said some groups were still receiving support from Iran, but "most of the individuals that we see or deal with on a daily basis" are no longer receiving the same level of backing from the Iranians as in the past.
Staff writer Kevin Giles and the Associated Press contributed to this report.