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Obituaries | MILITARY DEATHS

Army Sgt. Steven M. Packer, 23, Clovis; killed by roadside bomb

June 03, 2007|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

Some things Army Sgt. Steven M. Packer never forgot. He never forgot to tell his fiancee that he loved her more than anything on Earth, "including outer space," and he never forgot to call home on Mother's Day.

So when the call didn't come May 13, his mother, Robin Davidson, became nervous.

The news out of Iraq heightened her anxiety: Three U.S. soldiers were missing after a deadly ambush and were assumed to have been abducted. Her son was in the same area, known as the "triangle of death," southwest of Baghdad.

"I thought he was captured," she said. "I kind of breathed a sigh of relief when they announced the unit wasn't his."

The relief didn't last long. Her son couldn't call because he was on a mission to find those missing soldiers.

On May 17, while Packer was leading a foot patrol near Rushdi Mullah, a buried improvised explosive device went off, killing the 23-year-old, according to the Defense Department. The body of one of the missing soldiers, Army Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, was recovered from a canal May 23.

Packer, from Clovis, Calif., was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division at Ft. Drum, N.Y.

His death came on his third tour in Iraq. Packer had done his four years in the Army but was given a "stop-loss" order that allows the military to extend deployments in times of war.

"When he came back from the first tour, he told me that we take for granted what we have here," his mother said.

On his second tour, he had a number of close calls.

"His third time he knew the reality of it. He had a bad feeling about it. I felt he thought something was going to happen," his mother said. "When I saw him at the airport, he had a look and he was scared to death."

As a boy, Packer seemed destined for the military life. He idolized his grandfather, a career Marine, and he would draw detailed scenes of men in combat. After the Sept. 11 attacks, there was no doubt what he would do. After graduating from Clovis High School in 2002, he enlisted.

"He did what he believed in," his mother said. "At the time, I thought joining the Army would be a good idea. It would build character and help turn him into a man. I grew up in a military family."

But Packer's time in Iraq wore on him. When he returned home, he sidestepped questions about the war, preferring to change the subject.

"I tried to talk to him about it and finally stopped," said his stepfather, Mark Davidson. "Steven was a man of great character and just a solid individual. He was very respectful. He wasn't a complainer. Steven didn't talk about the war in a broader sense. There are a lot of guys who are gung ho and psyched about being there, and he wasn't one of those guys."

Packer gave a promise ring to his high school sweetheart, Stacy Xiong, 23, and was saving money for a house after they were married.

"I thought he was crazy for enlisting, but he kept telling me it was just four years out of his life," Xiong said. "We always knew something like this was a possibility. Every time we talked, we told each other how much we loved each other because we never knew when it would be the last time.

"He would say, 'I love you more than anything in the world, including outer space.' He would whisper that so the other guys wouldn't hear it."

The week before he died, Packer told her that three mortar rounds had struck near his position along the Euphrates River.

Packer planned on going to college when he returned. He just wasn't sure what to study. Sometimes it would be criminal law, other times he wanted to attend the fire academy.

"He just longed to be back home with his family," his mother said.

Before they got official news of his death, the family knew something was wrong. A friend called, saying two uniformed soldiers had appeared outside their former home. The military did not have the Davidsons' proper address. After the confusion was sorted out, the family had to wait an hour until the soldiers arrived, fearing the news they would bring.

"We still needed to hear it from their mouths," his mother said. "We still hoped it was just a bad injury."

Since then, the family has received messages from soldiers praising Packer as a leader and a friend.

His former lieutenant wrote that he was someone who could always be counted on in a tough spot.

In an e-mail to Xiong, Sgt. Justin Pulchalsky said Packer talked about her every day, discussed wedding plans and patiently endured his fellow soldiers' good-natured ribbing.

"I want you to know that everyone of us on the ground that day did EVERYTHING possible to save Steven," he wrote. "I don't know what to do without him. I sit here and stare at his bunk and sob into my hands.... It will never be the same without him."

Packer's father, David, was killed in a 1993 car accident. His son will be buried beside him.

"That was something Steven never got over," his mother said. "When my husband died, we didn't skip a beat. It was close to Christmas and we went out and bought a tree. You can't stop living. I have 6-year-old old twin boys right now. As much as I want to grieve, I need to be there for them."

Xiong takes comfort in one thing. "Steven died knowing he was loved," she said.

In addition to his mother and stepfather, Packer is survived by a brother, Christopher, 24; a sister, Danielle, 20; and two half brothers, Jason and Zachary, both 6.

--

david.kelly@latimes.com

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