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Minnesota National Guard
Bomb kills St. Paul man two months short of his homecoming

He was supposed to be home from Iraq in 61 days

But Sgt James M Wosika Jr died Tuesday, killed by a roadside bomb while on foot patrol near Fallujah, the Minnesota National Guard said Wednesday His death marks the first combat-related fatality of a St Paul guardsman in the Iraq war

The 24-year-old already had lost two Minnesota buddies in the past six weeks - Bryan McDonough, 22, of Maplewood, and Corey Rystad, 20, of Red Lake Falls, died in a Dec 2 roadside bombing - and his family was counting the days until his patrol duty ended in mid-February

"I'm very proud of him So is his mother and everybody who knew him If you met our boy for the first time, you'd fall in love with him, with his personality," father James Wosika Sr said through tears Wednesday "He feared for himself but more for his men He was the lead sergeant, and he protected them"

Wosika was with members of the Crookston-based Company B, 2nd Battalion, 136th Infantry when he was killed No other Minnesota National Guard Soldiers were injured in the blast

He is the 10th Minnesota guardsman killed in Iraq and the 43rd member of the military from the state to die since the war started in 2003 Lt. Col. Kevin Gutnecht, the senior officer of the 34th Brigade Combat Team, his voice breaking at times during an emotional news conference in St Paul, said "this has been a difficult month for Minnesota Company B"

In a phone interview from her Baghdad military post, Wosika's close friend Nicole Nguyen said fellow Soldiers told her he had been killed

"I fell over and started crying," she said

Nguyen met Wosika, known alternately as Jay and Jimmy, more than a year ago when she served as a mechanic on his tank crew Nguyen, 22, of Lino Lakes, and Wosika dated for six months while working together, but didn't get serious

"We both decided that we wanted to wait until we could be together," she said "His main goal was to have a family That's all he wanted - to be with that right girl"

Wosika deployed to Iraq last March with about 2,600 other Minnesota National Guard troops He was due back in Minnesota in mid-March

Wosika was fun, outgoing, sweet and a dedicated leader, Nguyen said

Those who knew him back home echoed her sentiments

"He was the heart and soul of our wrestling team Jimmy was truly a great young man," said Jim Paddock, the former wrestling coach at Highland Park Senior High School in St Paul

Wosika grew up in the West Seventh Street neighborhood and graduated from Highland Park in 2000 He joined the National Guard that November

Those who knew him described him as an outgoing teen who wrestled on the varsity team all four years and played football until his senior year

"He wasn't a superstar, just a good kid His family was salt-of-the-earth kind of people They worked hard, and they were close," said Paddock, now a vice principal at Como Park High School "He was just a regular kid - the kind who showed up every day and made it worthwhile but blended in at the same time"

Wosika helped with his old wrestling team when he wasn't overseas, coaching kids and watching practices

"He loved two things - he loved to wrestle and he loved his country,'' Paddock said

Friends from St Paul and the military filled Wosika's online MySpacecom page with dozens of messages Wednesday as word spread of his death Neighbor and longtime pal Migel Bartok posted a slide show of Wosika but couldn't talk about his death

"All I can say is I lost my best friend," he said tearfully from his James Avenue home

A Rascal Flatts enthusiast, Wosika saw the band at the State Fair when he was home on leave in August and attended a huge party thrown in his honor by his only sibling, sister Nichole Wosika, 27 The two were close, said her best friend, Samantha Fischer, 26, of St Paul

He would spontaneously torture his big sister with light headlocks, tickles, head rubs and wet fingers in the ears

"It was just silly kid stuff that neither one of them really outgrew," Fischer remembered "The two of them would go back and forth until both of them were crying, they were laughing so hard"

When he was not on active duty, Wosika worked as a bindery-stitcher operator at Banta Corp in Maple Grove

But he wanted to be an emergency medical technician and took EMT classes while stationed in Kosovo in 2004 He had hoped to become a St Paul paramedic, his father said

Wosika was wounded in Kosovo trying to help a riot victim during the peacekeeping mission

"Someone threw a large rock at him and hit him in the head He needed 14 to 18 stitches, but he continued to do his duty," James Wosika Sr said "He didn't take no time for himself"

But it was clear he had grown frustrated with his latest tour of duty He vented about the war online and to Nguyen, who urged him to "hang in there"

"I told him I loved him and I'd be with him "¦ whenever he needed to talk," she said

Wosika's father said his son was irritated that he couldn't intervene or act first in Iraq to protect himself in what he described as a police action more than a military one

"Lately I've been asking myself why are we here what am i doing if people will not act!!!!!" Wosika wrote Nov 30 on his MySpace page "I go out everyday and we see these insurgents these people that are killing or trying to kill and not succeding But we do nothing"

Despite his increasing frustration, James Wosika Sr said his son "loved what he was doing and believed in what he was doing and would do it all over again if he could"

Wosika considered anyone who died for his or her country a hero, he wrote online

That irony did not go unnoticed

"He became a hero," Wosika's father said

By Meggen Lindsay

Source: www.twincities.com

Sgt. James M. Wosika Jr.

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