EL PASO, Texas - Joining the 507th Maintenance Company was not supposed to be terribly risky. The Army company is made up mostly of mechanics and isn’t considered a combat unit.
So officials at Fort Bliss were horrified to learn that at least 10 members of the 507th were missing in Iraq, five of whom were seen in Iraqi video being interrogated.
Joel Hernandez, 19, instantly recognized his older brother, an Army supply truck driver, as he watched from his home in Mission, Texas. Supply Specialist Edgar Hernandez, 21, was one of those captured.
“His job really is not that dangerous, but once you’re out there anything you do is dangerous I guess,’’ Joel Hernandez said.
News of the captures rippled through Fort Bliss, the massive 1.1 million-acre post that is home to the Army’s center for the education and training of air defense artillery soldiers and units.
“The mood of course, is very tragic,’’ spokeswoman Jean Offutt said Sunday.
Offutt confirmed that at least 10 of the missing were with the 507th, which deployed last month with the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. The 507th keeps diesel tanker trucks rolling, fixes generators and maintains mechanical parts.
Iraqi video showed five U.S. soldiers - four men and one woman - being peppered with questions. In response to queries about where they were from, one soldier said he was from New Jersey; the others said they were from Texas.
The New Jersey soldier is Sgt. James Riley, 31, who wanted to serve in the military even when he was a young boy growing up in New Zealand, his family said from their home in Pennsauken, N.J.
Athol Riley, his father, said that when James came home on leave last summer, he painted the family’s house, then went back to Fort Bliss a week early so he could get to work welding the Army equipment.
Relatives of Spc. Shoshana Johnson said the 30-year-old single mother from Fort Bliss was the female POW shown on TV. Her father said he learned of his daughter’s capture while searching a Spanish-language network for cartoons to watch with Shoshana’s 2-year-old daughter.
“You know, hundreds of thousands of soldiers are out there. You never think that one of your family members would be one of those to be taken captive,’’ said a cousin, Tracy Thorne.
More than 200 people gathered Monday night for a community prayer service in Valley Center, Kan., to pray for missing 23-year-old Pfc. Patrick Miller, the troops and the people of Iraq. Miller is married with two young children.
Miller’s half brother, Thomas Hershberger, 27, has said he wants the United States to finish the war “as fast as possible’’ so his brother can come home. As for his mother, “I haven’t had a conversation with her without her crying,’’ he said.
In Alamogordo, N.M., Natalie Hudson - the wife of POW Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23 - said Monday that Army officials had telephoned to reassure her that all possible steps would be taken to get Hudson home safely.
“They tried to keep it positive,’’ she said. The couple started dating when she was a sophomore at Alamogordo High School. They have a 5-year-old daughter.
Three of the 10 missing were identified by relatives as: Pvt. Brandon Sloan, 19, of Bedford Heights, Ohio; Pfc. Lori Piestewa, 22, of Tuba City, Ariz.; and Pfc. Jessica Lynch, 19, of Palestine, W.Va.