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Army Sgt. Dale Brehm, 23, Turlock; Ranger Killed by Small-Arms Fire

April 09, 2006|J. Michael Kennedy | Times Staff Writer

Sgt. Dale Brehm's thoughts were turning away from war in the desert last month toward a new home and the beginnings of a family.

The Army Ranger was on his sixth tour of duty in the Middle East, three in Afghanistan and three in Iraq. He had only two weeks to go before he was scheduled to rotate out of Iraq and only three months before he left the military behind and returned to civilian life.

On March 18, Brehm, a native of Turlock, Calif., and other members of his unit were attacked with small-arms fire in the town of Ramadi, about 70 miles west of Baghdad.

Brehm, 23, and Army Staff Sgt. Ricardo Barraza, 24, of Shafter, Calif., were killed in the fight. Both were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Ft. Lewis, Wash.

Brehm died three days short of his 24th birthday.

On Thursday, Brehm, with much of his immediate family in attendance, was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

"He was due to get out in July," said his stepmother, Linda Brehm of Turlock. "He came to the decision that he was ready. In 2 1/2 weeks, he would have been home from his tour. He was starting to plan to build a house."

Brehm graduated from Turlock Adult School in 2000 and was a five-year Army veteran, joining on Feb. 15, 2001.

His stepmother said he was a popular high school student without a great deal of direction before he began to think of the Army as a career path. "He saw a recruiter and was really excited about it," she said. "He planned to be a Ranger almost from the get-go. It was a dream for him, and he fulfilled his dream."

After Ranger training at Ft. Benning, Ga., Brehm was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. His first three tours were in Afghanistan. One member of his 2nd Battalion was Cpl. Pat Tillman, 27, a former National Football League star killed by "friendly fire" in Afghanistan in 2004 after giving up a lucrative career with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army.

Linda Brehm said her stepson and his wife, Raini, a Modesto native, would visit between his assignments, though little was said of what he did in the Middle East in his role as a rifleman, grenadier and team leader. But she said she could see a gradual, positive change in him with each visit.

"Everyone got to see the changes as he went from a boy to a man," she said. "It was fun to be with him. He liked to have a good time, to have a beer and relax."

Linda Brehm said that she and Dale's father, Bill, were having coffee one Sunday morning last month when they saw two uniformed officers approaching the front door. She said she knew that something was wrong.

The Army gave little information about what happened in Ramadi the day that Brehm was killed. But it was, and is, a dangerous place for an American soldier to operate. U.S. troops occupy rooftop positions, from which they watch the alleyways and streets below for suspicious movements. Men wearing ski masks routinely fire on American troops in the town.

In the aftermath of his death, Brehm's company commander, Maj. Jasper Jeffers, described him as someone who "demanded that the men around him give nothing less than 100% with every task."

Besides his numerous awards and decorations, Brehm was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and two Army commendation medals.

In addition to his wife, of Steilacoom, Wash., his father and stepmother, he is survived by his mother, Laura Williams of Riverbank, Calif.

Another memorial service will be held at Ft. Lewis upon the return of Brehm's unit from Iraq.

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