The military on Friday identified the two U.S. troops killed in a rocket attack on Camp Taji in Iraq as Army Spc. Juan Miguel Mendez Covarrubias, 27, of Hanford, California, and Air Force Staff Sgt. Marshal D. Roberts, 28, of Owasso, Oklahoma.
Mendez Covarrubias was assigned to 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.
Roberts was assigned to 219th Engineering Installation Squadron of the Oklahoma Air National Guard’s 138th Fighter Wing.
The third service member killed in the attack, U.K. Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon, 26, was previously identified by the British military.
“The international military coalition is capable and credible because of warriors like Juan, Brodie, and Marshal,” said Lt. Gen. Pat White, commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, the coalition to defeat the Islamic State. “They volunteered to serve the United States and United Kingdom to improve their lives and help keep the world free from ISIS terrorism. Our fallen comrades have a legacy that will never be forgotten.”
The Oklahoma Air National Guard said Roberts enlisted in May 2014, and is the first Oklahoma Air Guardsman to be killed in action since Sept. 11, 2001. He is the 20th Oklahoma National Guardsman who has died while deployed since 9/11.
“With the passing of Staff Sgt. Roberts, the 138th family has lost a dedicated airman, mentor and leader,” 138th wing commander Col. Michael Meason said in a release. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Staff Sgt. Roberts’ family and friends as we stand with them through this difficult time. They are and always will be part of the 138th family.”
The governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, and Maj. Gen. Michael Thompson, the adjutant general, also paid tribute to Roberts.
“Oklahomans all across the state mourn the loss of Staff Sgt. Roberts,” Stitt said. “Today serves as a reminder of the many brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day to defend our state and country. Our prayers are with Staff Sgt. Roberts’ friends and family during this time, and the state is prepared to offer any support possible.”
Mendez Covarrubias entered the Army in June 2018 as a signal support systems specialist. Since March 2019, he has been assigned to 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood.
He deployed in support of the Inherent Resolve mission in October.
Mendez Covarrubias’ battalion commander extended his condolences to family of the fallen soldier, who he called a “cherished” member of the unit.
“The regiment and his fellow Soldiers are grieving the loss of a true warrior,” said Lt. Col. Adam S. Camarano. "Command Sgt. Maj. Travis Eicher and I would like to express our most sincere condolences to the family and friends of Spc. Mendez Covarrubias. His loss is felt across the our formation and he will not be forgotten.”
Inherent Resolve commander Lt. Gen. Pat White, who also commands III Corps at Fort Hood, issued a separate statement for Mendez Covarrubias.
“On behalf of the Phantom Corps and Fort Hood, Texas, community, Emma and I send our deepest condolences to Juan’s family, friends, and 1st Cavalry Division troopers during this difficult time of mourning," White said. "Specialist Mendez was a warrior who will forever be remembered.”
The top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie Jr., told lawmakers Thursday that an Iranian proxy group known as Kataib Hezbollah is believed to be responsible for the attack.
A dozen other people were also injured in the volley of 18 rockets fired at the base north of Baghdad.
The U.S. launched retaliatory strikes on the Shia militia group later on Thursday. The Pentagon said it hit five Kataib Hezbollah weapons facilities. Iraq’s military said that the U.S. strikes killed five Iraqi security force members and one civilian.
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.