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Details of soldier’s death in Iraq unclear
In the past year, with a precipitous drop in violence in Iraq, the casualty notification teams of the 96th Regional Readiness Command based at Fort Douglas have been far less busy than at the height of the war. But on Friday, a team notified the family of Jordan Thibeault that the 22-year-old soldier had died that day at Forward Operating Base Hammer, in northern Iraq.
Thibeault is the first Utah soldier to die in the nation’s largest ongoing war effort in more than a year. The last to die in Iraq was American Fork native Nathan Barnes, who died when his unit came under a small arms attack in Rushdi Mullah on July 17, 2007.
The 96th's casualty notification team, which is tasked with notifying — and then caring for — the families of fallen service members, told the South Jordan family few details about Thibeault's death.
Thibeault’s father, John, asked for privacy for his family on Monday, saying that the details of his son’s death remained unknown, three days after the family was notified of the loss. “We still don’t have much information,” he said.
That’s likely in part because the incident in which Jordan Thibeault was killed has been classified as a “non-hostile” death by the U.S. Army, which said in a statement that an investigation is underway.
Thibeault's unit, headquartered in Germany, was four months into a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq, where most of its members are stationed near Sadr City.
Since the beginning of the war, the number of non-hostile fatalities — those occurring in vehicle accidents, accident weapons discharges, by suicide and other incidents not directly related to combat — has represented about one-fifth of the total deaths in Iraq.
But over the past year, with a significant drop in violence throughout the nation, the number of non-hostile deaths has met or exceeded the number of deaths resulting from combat operations and insurgent attacks. Of the past 30 U.S. deaths in Iraq, 15 have come outside of combat operations, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Defense.
“There are lots of dangers associated with military situations that don’t have to do with combat,” said Hank McIntire, a public affairs officer for the Utah National Guard. “Any kind of accident you could see in the civilian world, you can see in a military workplace as well.”
Either way, the duty of notifying family members is conducted in the same way. Generally, two uniformed officers will locate the service member’s next of kin, usually at home but sometimes at work or school, to deliver the life-changing news.
“It’s a horrible duty,” said Ronald McClean, an officer with the 96th, which received the call on Friday to notify Thibeault’s family. “It’s one of those things you never want to do.”
For those in the quiet suburban community in which the Thibeault family resides, how Jordan Thibeault died was inconsequential. What mattered was how he lived.
On Monday, the Thibeault’s street had been adorned with American flags. And a sign hung from their home’s white picket fence read: “We can’t thank you enough for making the ultimate sacrifice for us and our country. God bless you."