SAVANNAH, Ga. - The first 3rd Infantry Division soldier to be killed this year in Iraq was a new recruit who missed a final combat exercise and joined his Fort Stewart unit just weeks before going to war.
Pvt. Matthew Thomas Zeimer, 18, was one of two soldiers killed Friday by enemy fire in Ramadi, a stronghold of Iraq's Sunni insurgency. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment and is the first soldier to be killed from Fort Stewart's 1st Brigade Combat Team, which entered Iraq last week.
Pvt. Zeimer arrived at Fort Stewart on Dec. 18, thus missing the 1st Brigade's intensive four-week mission rehearsal in October. That's when 1,300 trainers and Iraqi role-players from the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., came to Fort Stewart to re-create the most realistic combat training environment the Army offers.
After completing basic training, Pvt. Zeimer returned to his hometown of Glendive, Mont., to inform friends and former teachers that he would soon leave for Iraq, his former high school principal said.
Pvt. Zeimer did attend Individual Replacement Training, a 10-day course that trains soldiers in weapons use, Iraqi cultural awareness, rules of war, first-aid, navigation and dealing with media.
Last month, when the Savannah Morning News asked why soldiers were joining deploying units so late in the training cycle, 3rd Division Commander Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch insisted the training gives soldiers "all the skill sets they need to deploy to combat."
"Sometimes equipment shows up at the very last moment, and sometimes soldiers show up later than you'd like," Maj. Gen. Lynch said. "Without a doubt, we had soldiers who came into the 1st Brigade Combat Team after the mission rehearsal exercise."
Maj. Gen. Lynch said no soldier is sent into combat unprepared.
"What we do is a very deliberate, detailed training process," he said. "When we're ready, and only when we're ready, do we send them into combat."
Yet some Iraq veterans in the 1st Brigade have expressed concerns about their younger counterparts missing the mission rehearsal.
"The training was good, but some guys came in after that. They're basically going straight from basic training into Iraq," Staff Sgt. Jason Massey said last month, before saying goodbye to his family for a third tour.
The number of 1st Brigade soldiers who missed the final combat exercise is unknown. A division spokesman could not immediately provide that number.
The 3rd Infantry Division is the first Army division to be tapped for a third tour in Iraq. With one brigade already there, two other brigades will deploy earlier than planned to meet President Bush's call for a troop surge.
Pvt. Zeimer is survived by his parents, Ned and Janet Seymour, and four siblings, including an 18-year-old twin sister. Relatives could not be reached for comment.
After arriving at Fort Stewart, Pvt. Zeimer established a Web page on MySpace.com. Recently married, he wrote that he was looking forward to "a happy life at home with my wife and hopefully I can have children soon."