Topeka It will be at least Friday before U.S. Army officials are able to release the names of five soldiers from Fort Riley killed this week in Iraq by an explosion.
The soldiers were killed Wednesday when a bomb detonated under their M-113 in Malahma, resulted in the deadliest day for Fort Riley since the war began last year and brought the number of soldiers from the Kansas post to die in Iraq to 35. The area is in the Sunni Triangle -- roughly between Baghdad, Ramadi and Tikrit.
Families of four of the soldiers had been notified as of Thursday morning, said Fort Riley spokeswoman Christie Vanover.
"It's an incredible tragedy when life is lost and we in Kansas take it even more personally when we're talking about soldiers based in Kansas," Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. "My thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost loved ones in the war, and we join Americans in praying for the safe return of our soldiers."
Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen, whose district includes Fort Riley, learned of the deaths late Wednesday. Moved to tears by the news, she said she could not imagine the difficulty facing American children whose parents are in Iraq.
"The war is so real in Kansas. We are every bit a part of that war," said Oleen, R-Manhattan. "Five soldiers affects hundreds out there."
The deaths also came one day before the one-year anniversary of the first Fort Riley death in Iraq.
Sgt. Jacob Butler, 24, was a scout with the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division. He died April 1, 2003, at Assamawah, Iraq, when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle.
About 4,600 Fort Riley soldiers are in Iraq. The five soldiers who died Wednesday were part of the 1st Infantry Division's 1st Brigade, which deployed in September.
Members of the 1st Armored Division and the 937th Engineer Group, which are based at Fort Riley, were deployed at the start of the war and are scheduled to return to the base through April.
Vanover said news did not widely circulate through the 100,000-acre post Wednesday afternoon. Previously, the bloodiest day for Fort Riley soldiers was three deaths on Jan. 27.
Family, clergy and military support groups would meet with soldiers' families to help them with the loss, Vanover said.
"They come from all over the country, but they're Kansans right now," she said.
The fort's death toll in the current conflict surpasses that of Operation Desert Storm, when Fort Riley lost 17 soldiers. Thousand of soldiers attached to Fort Riley units were killed during the Vietnam War.
In all, at least 597 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war began March 20, 2003. President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1.