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Bristol Herald Courier November 18, 2005

Two local soldiers dead in Iraq

By Matthew Lakin

ABINGDON – The knock on the door came twice in Southwest Virginia this week when two area troops – a soldier and a Marine – died a day apart in Iraq.

A roadside bomb killed Staff Sgt. James Earl Estep, 26, of Damascus early Tuesday as he and other soldiers of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division drove through the streets of Taji, a suburb of Baghdad, Army officials said.

Halfway across the country the next day, gunfire killed 2nd Lt. Donald Ryan McGlothlin, 26, of Lebanon as he and other Marines fought in Ubaydi near the Syrian border, according to the Department of Defense.

Families began learning the news Tuesday night.

"I’m proud of my brother," said Becky Buskill, Estep’s sister. "Every time I look at the flag, I’ll know he fought for that and that he loved it. I just hate how many more are going to have to die."

One local veteran said he couldn’t remember the last time two area soldiers died within a day of each other.

"It’s starting to come home to us," said Emmitt Yeary, president of the Veterans Memorial Fund of Washington County. "And the closer it comes to home, the more the hurt is."

Other communities have suffered nearly simultaneous losses with the Army’s new reliance on local National Guard units, said John Pike, executive director of globalsecurity.org, a Web site that tracks the military. But almost none have involved troops fighting with regular units drawn from around the country.

"That’s very unusual," he said.

Southwest Virginia has lost about half a dozen troops since the war began in 2003 – all from small towns or rural communities such as Damascus, Lebanon or Konnarock. Some areas hadn’t seen a death in combat since World War II.

McGlothlin was Russell County’s first to die in the Iraq war.

Estep was the second soldier from Washington County killed in Iraq. The first, Staff Sgt. Gregory Pennington of Konnarock, died on June 21, 2004, during a mortar attack on the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad.

Both men attended Holston High School in Damascus and grew up in the shadow of Whitetop Mountain. Both left seeking opportunity in a military career.

Close-knit communities tend to produce most of the area’s soldiers, Yeary said, and suffer more when one falls.

"That’s probably where many of our soldiers come from," he said. "People there know more about their family and neighbors. They see them in church on Sunday and get their paper delivered by the boy next door. When you can put a face like that with a name, it hurts harder."

Communities will begin dealing with that hurt over the next week as the bodies of Estep and McGlothlin come home for burial.

Estep’s family plans to bury him in Beatie Cemetery in neighboring Chilhowie.

"He wanted to be at home," said his brother, Michael. "That’s all he talked about, was coming home."

Funeral plans for McGlothlin were not clear Thursday night.


Copyright 2005, Bristol Herald Courier