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      Meridian soldier among 5 Fort Bliss soldiers killed in Afghan blast

      Staff Sgt. Francis Gene Phillips IV

      A Meridian soldier is among five soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

      28-year-old Staff Sgt. Francis Gene Phillips IV was killed Saturday in a blast from an improvised explosive device.

      Phillips was with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss.

      The other soldiers killed were identified as Spc. Kevin Cardoza of Mercedes, Texas; 1st Lt. Brandon James Landrum of Lawton, Okla.; Spc. Thomas Paige Murach of Meridian, Idaho; and 24-year-old Spc. Brandon Joseph Prescott of Bend, Ore.

      Fort Bliss spokesman Maj. Joe Buccino told the El Paso Times the soldiers were more than halfway through a 9-month deployment. "Five in one blast is extremely unusual and horrific," Buccino told the paper. "This casts a shadow over the entire community. The entire community has reached out to us - the Chamber of Commerce, leaders, El Pasoans who are not in the military. We are appreciative of that," he said.

      Buccino said the entire Fort Bliss community is saddened by the loss. "The reality of this has been felt tremendously in this community and El Paso. It wasn't even a year ago that we lost six soldiers (from the 978th Military Police Company) in one blast and now this. "Your hearts go out to the families and the soldiers in the Ready First (the 1st Brigade's nickname) who are dealing with this," Buccino said. "There are a lot of people touched by this and are affected by it. It personalizes the war in a very tragic way."

      Buccino said a joint memorial service for the fallen soldiers will be held at the installation at some point, but nothing has been scheduled yet.