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Air Force identifies Hill airman killed in Iraq
The U.S. Air Force today identified the Hill Air Force Base airman killed this week in Iraq as Ryan Balmer, of Indiana.
Balmer, a special agent with the Hill AFB Office of Special Investigation, was killed Tuesday in Kirkuk, Iraq, in a roadside bomb explosion. Another OSI agent, Staff Sgt. Matthew Kuglics from Lackland AFB, Texas, was also killed.
Originally from Mishawaka, Ind., Balmer is survived by his wife and three children in Roy.
"This is a tragedy that affects our entire Air Force family and we are all saddened because we have lost another hero," said Scott Chambers, 75th Air Base Wing commander. "Special Agent Balmer will be truly missed and his sacrifice and service to our nation will not be forgotten."
Balmer's is the fourth combat fatality so far this year from the northern Utah Air Force base. The Hill Air Force Base had survived nearly four years of warfare without suffering a fatality in Iraq.
The most recent death follows by five months the killings of Hill Airmen Elizabeth Loncki, Timothy Weiner and Daniel Miller in a Jan. 7 Baghdad bomb explosion.
The Hill fatalities come as the Air Force and Navy -- traditionally called upon to lend military assistance from the relative safety of the skies and seas -- have taken on a more active role in on-the-ground fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Airmen and sailors drive convoys, guard bases and dismantle bombs. And, in doing so, they often share the same dangers as their peers in the Army and Marines.
At a news conference after the killings of Loncki, Weiner and Miller, Air Base Wing commander Col. Scott Chambers said his airmen have stepped up to the challenge presented by an Army "stretched thin" by its obligations overseas.
Not everyone has embraced the change in mission, however.
In April, the Air Force's top general expressed frustration with the reassignment of troops under his command, saying his airmen were being called upon to do jobs for which they were not trained. Gen. Michael Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff, said that more than 20,000 airmen have been assigned worldwide into roles outside their specialties.
Moseley said he recognized the obligations of all service members at a time of war.
"We live in a joint world. We live in a military that's at war. And we live in a situation where, if we can contribute, then sign me up for it."
But the Air Force general said he was "less supportive of things outside our competency."
More than 10,000 airmen are deployed within the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan, with another 24,000 stationed throughout the broader region. The Air Force Expeditionary Center at Fort Dix, N.J., is now retraining about 5,000 airmen per year for ground combat in Iraq.
Still, Air Force personnel remain the most likely of members of any service branch to avoid war service. More than half of all airmen have never been deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. By contrast, only one in three Army soldiers has avoided war duty.
Office of Special Investigations agents like Balmer perform duties in Iraq dealing with the security and protection of "Air Force assets," said Christine Millette, a spokesperson for the Air Force OSI office.
"Our agents do a lot of work outside the borders of established air bases in Iraq in order to identify, exploit and neutralize criminal, terrorist and intelligence threats to the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense and U.S. Government," she said.
The deaths of Balmer and Kuglics brings to four the number of OSI agents who have been killed in Iraq.
Balmer's death brings to 10 the number of Utahns and former Utahns killed in Iraq so far in 2007, the deadliest year on record for residents of the state, according to a count by The Salt Lake Tribune. In all, 40 Utahns have died in fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to The Tribune's count.
The Associated Press contributed to the report.