The DoD has concluded DNA testing on the remains of the final unidentified casualty from Saturday's attack near Mahmoudiya. After days of painful uncertainty, the family of Sgt. Anthony Schober, 23, of Nevada, received word last night that their loved one's whereabouts were no longer unknown.
Schober's family has been on a roller coaster. According to a Syracuse newspaper, the Army told them Saturday night he had been killed in the ambush. The next morning, there was a correction: "whereabouts unknown."
Schober, on his third combat tour and the winner of three Purple Hearts, was the most experienced of the missing soldiers, all members of the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division based in Fort Drum, N.Y.
"He liked the idea of being in the military because he could get an education," said Arlene Schober, his grandmother. She told the Washington Post her grandson had dropped out of high school after his junior year but was able to earn a GED with the help of the Army. A shy boy who liked the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and played baseball, Schober grew to like the military and reenlisted, his grandmother said in a phone interview from Kirby, Ark.
Schober didn't talk much about the war when he was home in July, his grandfather said. But he did say he was angry that Iraqis didn't seem to appreciate the Americans' help.
"He was mad at the Iraqis," Asper said. "He said, 'We're here to help them, and they're shooting us.' "
The verification of Schober's identity establishes that the three missing soldiers are Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Massachusetts.; Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, California; and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Michigan.
Spc. Alex R. Jimenez's hometown newspaper reports that he loves being a soldier.
When his father's neighbor, Raul Polanco, first met Jimenez, the young U.S. Army specialist was looking through a book about the Army. "He is a true military man; he lived for that," Polanco said.
Other friends describe Jimenez, who has been missing in Iraq since Saturday, as so enthralled with the military, he watches the commercials with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. He loves it so much, they said, he is planning to re-enlist for another four years.
But his family was not so thrilled with the 25-year-old's choice of careers.
"I didn't agree with his decision because of what is happening," said his cousin, Jose Peralta. "When you go to war, it's like a lottery."
Pvt. Byron Fouty had a "rough upbringing," recalled Cathy Conger, a family friend who helped raise Fouty after he left his father's home.
Fouty dropped out of high school and joined the Army last year because "there was no one there for him. . . . He didn't really have much here," Conger said.
After completing boot camp, Conger said, Fouty "looked so grown up and so much more mature" when he came to visit for Christmas. By then, Fouty knew he was headed to Iraq in January.
"We said, 'God, Byron, aren't you scared?'" Conger recalled. "He said no."
Still, the deployment wore on Fouty, already saddened by the loss of his grandmother to cancer and a close friend to suicide. When he learned recently that his tour would be extended from a year to 15 months, "he was quite upset about that," Conger said.
The Detroit News reports that in his last MySpace entry, dated April 12, Fouty called his time in Iraq "a messed up year," mourned his grandmother's death from cancer in 2005, and lamented a comrade's suicide.
"This year has been coated with nothing but bad news, very little good news shining through," he wrote, listing his current mood as "aggravated."
He then mentioned anticipating a break for the holidays. But this, he wrote, was hindered by a sobering development: "Now I find we're extended until November. Joy."
Friends on his page offered reassuring words and pleaded for his safety.
A message left Sunday from "Sarah & Isaac " read: "i have soo many people prayin for you over here and everyones looking for you. we love you so so much"
Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr., a star football player and wrestler in high school, decided to join the Army because "he just didn't have any kind of future planned for himself," his aunt told the Washington Post. "The recruiters at the school were there, and to him $10,000 sounded like a lot of money, and that was what led him to join."
He had no plans to reenlist, she said, recently telling her that he hoped to find a wife and settle down. "Before, it wasn't like that. Being over there made him grow up and really think about his life," she said.
A few weeks ago, Anzack's family had another scare when rumors circulated that their soldier had died in Iraq. His high school even posted a message outside the campus reading: "In Loving Memory Joe Anzack Class of 2005."
His father, Joseph Anzack, told NBC's "Today" show that he called the Red Cross about the rumors, and military commanders were able to get his son to a phone.
"He called me up and said, 'Dad, it's me,"' the elder Anzack recalled. "I can't wait for that to happen again."
"It made me realize how much unfinished business that we have," he said. "Just getting to know each other."