Area Soldiers Among Iraq Crash Victims

By Christian Davenport and Leef Smith
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 24, 2007

An Army colonel from Stafford and a top enlisted man from the Maryland National Guard were among the 12 soldiers killed when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed near Baghdad last weekend.

Col. Paul M. Kelly, 45, one of the most senior Army officers who has died in Iraq, was nicknamed "the Senator" because he was always shaking soldiers' hands, no matter their rank, colleagues said. Another Virginia man, Staff Sgt. Darryl D. Booker, 37, of Amelia, Va., 35 miles southwest of Richmond, died in the crash Saturday northeast of Baghdad, troops in Iraq said.

Also on board was Command Sgt. Maj. Roger W. Haller, 49, of Annapolis, a master plumber who became commandant of the Maryland Guard's noncommissioned officers' academy and who begged to be sent overseas, his family said.

"Like any other American out there, he wanted to go over there," said Morgan Haller, his 21-year-old daughter. "You sign up for the military because it's your job. You're fighting for freedom. He wanted to be a part of it."

The Department of Defense has not released the names of the deceased, but the Haller and Kelly families said they had received calls about the deaths. Booker's family said officials had yet to identify his remains at the crash site.

Yesterday in Al Asad, Iraq, nearly 200 members of the Virginia National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, gathered in a chapel at this base west of Baghdad to mourn Kelly and Booker, who served for years with the Guard before moving on to work for the Reserve Component Division of the Multi-National Corps Iraq.

They were "as much a part of our unit family as anyone in this room," Lt. Col. Robert E. McMillin II said during the memorial service. "I can't help but imagine they are viewing this ceremony, watching over us and praying for our safe return," he said.

Booker, who was married, had a 16-year-old daughter and four step-children, said his father, Earnest R. Hardy Sr. Kelly leaves behind a wife and two sons, 6 and 9.

Booker was active in his church, the Mount Gilead Full Gospel International Ministries in Richmond, and had a faith that gave him a sense of ease, his family and fellow soldiers remembered.

"Over the holiday, he let me know that he had a couple close calls," Hardy recalled. "He said: 'Don't worry about me. I'm all right. I'm covered.' If he was secure in his assurance of where he was with Christ, then I had assurances."

"You felt it just by being in his presence," echoed Sgt. Derrick Argo, 38, of Richmond.

And what a presence it was. At about 6 feet 5 inches, with hands as big as waffles, he was known in the unit as "Big Daddy."

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