As the U. S. ends its combat mission in Iraq, we honor those New Jerseyans who served there. Below are sketches of a few who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Cpl. Michael E. Curtin, 23, Howell – March 2003 The first New Jerseyan killed during the war in Iraq, he was a graduate of Howell High School where he played on the school football team and enjoyed recreational hockey and baseball. He worked as a tool-and-die apprentice for three years before enlisting in 2001. He was killed when a suicide bomber attacked an army checkpoint on a highway. His family said, “The outpouring of support, generosity and condolences on the loss of Michael has been truly overwhelming.”
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Pfc. Min Soo Choi, 21, River Vale – March 2005 Shortly before leaving for duty in Iraq, Army Pfc. Min Soo Choi gave his high school guidance counselor a special assignment: take care of my baby sister. “He was big brother looking out for his little sister,” the guidance counselor said. A 2003 graduate of Pascack Valley, he was a member of the varsity golf team and a good student. His goal was to later join the FBI and become an American citizen. He was killed when an explosive device detonated near his patrol in Abertha one month after he was deployed. He was a native of South Korea.
Specialist Jamal Rhett, 24, Palmyra – August 2010 A graduate of Burlington County Institute of Technology in 2003 and student at Bloomfield College and Burlington County College, he joined the military in 2007. On his second tour in Iraq as a combat medic, he hoped one day of becoming a physician’s assisitant. He was killed after insurgents attacked his convoy vehicle with grenades in Baqubah, near Bagdad. Michelle Watson, his mother, said, “As I’ve learned in my life and place of worship… The greatest thing a man can do is lay down his life for his friends.”
Sgt. Stephen Sherman, 27, Neptune – February 2005 A 1996 A graduate of High Technology High School in Lincroft, he served as a nuclear, biological, chemical noncommissioned officer, directing other soldiers in the use of detection and decontamination equipment. He was killed when an improvised explosive device went off near his truck on a road in Mosul. His mother said, “Stephen was a great son, grandson, brother, nephew, cousin and a dedicated soldier who was devoted to making the world a better place.”
Captain Maria Ortiz, 47, Pensauken – July 2007 A graduate of the University of Puerto Rico in 1990, she joined the reserves the next year. She was the third woman with ties to NJ who died in Iraq. Reportedly born in Pensauken, it was not clear how much time she spent there. Her mother lives in the area. She was assigned to Kirk Army Health Clinic as Chief Nurse General Medicine before being assigned to Iraq in 2005. She was killed by mortar fire in Bagdad. She received numerous commendations including a Bronze Star.
You can read about other NJ soldiers fallen in Iraq here.