Hometown / City: SIERRA VISTA, AZ COCHISE
Date of Death: Monday, February 16, 2004
Conflict: Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq)
Branch: U.S. Army
Unit: HHT 1ST SQUADRON 14TH CAVALRY REGIMENT, FORT LEWIS, WA 98433
Birth: Feb. 17, 1980, USA
Death: Feb. 16, 2004, Iraq
Army Sgt. Michael M. Merila, 23, of Sierra Vista, Ariz.; assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, Fort Lewis, Wash.; died Feb. 16 when his convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device in Talifar, Iraq. Those who worked with Sgt. Michael M. Merila believed he was poised for a bright future in the military. In the top 2 percent of his basic training class, he distinguished himself in his studies to become a paralegal. Sgt. Maj. Jerry Gatton called Merila one of the best soldiers he'd ever encountered. "It's impossible for me to adequately relate what the loss of Sgt. Merila means to the Army," Gatton said. The Fort Lewis-based soldier from Sierra Vista, Ariz., was killed Feb. 16 in Talifar, Iraq, when his convoy was hit by an explosive. It was the day before his 24th birthday. Friends and family remembered Merila as a jokester who would drive around in the rain with the top down on his 1987 convertible. "He drew people to him," Gatton said. Merila was scheduled for a transfer, but chose instead to stay with his unit and ship out to Iraq. "It speaks volumes about this young man, about his character, his upbringing and his values," Lt. Gen. Edward Soriano said. Survivors include Merila's mother, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, and his father, a retired Army chief warrant officer. Merila's death was the first of a Stryker soldier from hostile fire since the 5,000-member brigade crossed into Iraq in early December, The News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash., reported. Eight others have been killed in accidents. Merila's convoy was returning to base after leaving Mosul Airfield, where it had dropped off the first batch of soldiers on their way home for 20 days of leave. Merila died while being flown to an Army combat support hospital, the News Tribune reported. One other Stryker soldier hurt in the explosion was treated for a shrapnel wound to the arm. Published online on January 28, 2005.