Thursday, October 05, 2006

SIERRA VISTA — Cpl. Casey L. Mellen was born into Army life in this Southern Arizona city. On Wednesday, he was buried here at age 21, the latest local casualty of war.

Hundreds turned out for the funeral of a hometown hero who was killed in action while protecting his fellow soldiers.

Mellen, a newlywed, died in Iraq on Sept. 25, from wounds suffered in combat in Mosul.

Fellow soldiers said the infantryman was felled while providing cover fire for his comrades.

He was buried with full military honors in the shadow of the Huachuca Mountains, where he hiked as a child.

He was the 20th service member with ties to Southern Arizona to die in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Fellow soldiers from the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) at Fort Lewis, Wash., recalled the intense loyalty Mellen displayed toward his comrades.

"Our brother Casey Mellen died protecting his family, watching our backs, covering our six," said a statement from a recent memorial event at Fort Lewis that was read at the Fort Huachuca service.

Sgt. Michael Hernandez of Fort Lewis fought back tears as he shared comments from the fallen soldier's colleagues.

Casey L. Mellen had a calming influence on his comrades and held a place of honor in his platoon, Hernandez said.

He had "an uncanny ability to slow things down and project a sense of peace, even in a place of chaos and ugliness," he said.

A quiet, observant man, he didn't talk unless he had something substantial to say.

"He was the one who listened and analyzed, and when he did speak, his words carried an air of certainty," Hernandez recalled from comments made by Mellen's battle buddies.

"For a 21-year-old man, his words were sagelike," Hernandez said.

Mellen, a graduate of Omega Alpha Academy charter school in Sierra Vista, joined the Army in 2004 after a semester at Cochise College.

"In the very beginning, he was a gung-ho soldier," his father, retired Army Sgt. Casey E. Mellen, recalled in an interview after the funeral.

But "his enthusiasm for Iraq wasn't as high," after the younger Mellen married, his father said.
When he left for war four months ago, Casey L. Mellen had been wed less than a year to his 18-year-old wife, Amber.

The young soldier's mixed feelings were evident in a profile he posted on the Internet site

In a section that asks the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" he replied, "Anything but in the Army."

In a spot that asks who his heroes are, the younger Mellen wrote: "George Bush . . . LOL yea right,"

God damn you to hell George W.

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