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Mother of slain solider speaks

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - Since the start of the year, more than 156 soldiers have been killed while deployed in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  Flags are being flown at half staff in honor of a son of Guam, 23-year-old Josh Akoni Lukeala, who made the ultimate sacrifice and whose legacy will be remembered in the hearts of the many family and friends who knew him.

Dorothy Sablan Lukeala's worst fear came true on Monday when she learned her eldest son had been killed in combat overseas.  "It's a tragedy how he left us, but it was what he really loved doing," she said. SGT Lukeala died on Monday when the humvee he was riding in hit an improvised explosive device.  It turns out the day Josh died was the deadliest day for coalition forces this year as 10 NATO troops - 7 of which were American soldiers - were killed in Afghanistan. 

Wire reports indicate 5 Americans were killed in a roadside bomb attack in Eastern Afghanistan while 2 U.S. soldiers were killed in the country's volatile south -one in a bombing the other in small arms fire.

The Lukeala family is still waiting to get specific details of the tragic event.  Josh was part of the 101st Airborne Air Assault Division based out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky and had just started what was supposed to be a year long deployment in Afghanistan.  Dorothy can't remember a time when her son didn't want to be in the military - Josh's dream started when he was just a toddler.

"'Joshitotowawa' -  that's what I called him, Joshitowawa," she recalled.  "Everytime his dad comes home from work, takes of his uniform he takes his dad's boots and puts it on and starts wobbling around the house with his shirt on and with the bushcap. He would say, 'I'm gonna be like dad!'"

Josh and his younger brother, Anthony Keoni, would spend their days playing army in the yard behind the family's Yigo home.  In 2005 he committed to defending our freedom, by joining the U.S. Army.  Several years ago he was deployed to Iraq with the Stryker Brigade 25th Infantry Division.  On that deployment Josh was spared when an IED went off when he was on foot patrol.  The incident resulted in the Army Sergeant partially losing his hearing and being awarded the Purple Heart.  "To him, it was nothing and of course for me a mom, him being hurt, I wanted to be out there take care of him the locals even if our kids are 19, 20, 30, 40 years old - we want to be there for them," he said.

Dorothy says that deployment opened her son's eyes to what was really important in life and helped him understand not to take things in life for granted.  But her son's deployment to Afghanistan was different; Dorothy said she could hear it in her son's voice the very last time she spoke to him, on Memorial Day weekend.  She said, "I could hear that they say in Chamorro, triste, that sadness in him. I told him, 'Just keep your head up'.  I told him we're still praying for you."

Dorothy says she will miss her son's voice and phone calls the most. She was looking forward to seeing josh as he had planned to return home to Guam in September to visit his wife Deniece, daughter Maiya and his family.  Since hearing the news, the Lukeala family is overwhelmed with emotions - sadness for the loss of such a beloved son, father, and husband, yet at the same time a deep sense of pride for the valiant soldier he was, and the sacrifice he made.

"He's a hero him being in the military that's what he always wanted to do," he said. "We're just so proud of him...he's our hero."

Sergeant Lukeala's body was flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and arrangements will be made to give him a hero's welcome on Guam.  Nightly rosaries are being said at 8pm at the Lukeala home at 170 Chalan SPC John T. Sablan in Yigo.

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