by Levi Rickert
Published October 25, 2015
WASHINGTON—The Pentagon on Friday identified the soldier killed in the line of duty in Iraq on Thursday as being U.S. Army Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler. Wheeler was a member of the Cherokee Nation, who grew up in eastern Oklahoma’s Sequoyah County. Master Sergeant Wheeler was 39.
He is the first American service member killed in action by enemy fire while fighting Islamic State militants.
Wheeler, who was from Roland, Oklahoma, joined the Army as an infantryman. He served in the 75th Ranger Regiment, deploying three times to support combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, before being assigned to USASOC headquarters. He deployed 11 times after that to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to information released by USASOC.
Wheeler died from enemy gunfire in Iraq. He was part of a team of dozens of U.S. special operations troops who joined Kurdish fighters in a predawn raid of a detention facility run by the Islamic State group.
The U.S. and Kurdish forces killed several Islamic State militants and detained five others, defense officials have said.
In addition to Wheeler, four other soldiers were wounded.
The raid freed about 70 hostages whose lives officials said were in imminent danger.
On Saturday, The New York Times described Wheeler’s early life growing up in northeastern Oklahoma and how his family, “like many people in the region, received help from the Cherokee nation.”
Later Friday, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker issued the following statement:
“Our hearts go out to the Wheeler family for their tragic loss. Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler was a highly decorated member of the Delta Force unit whose mission in Iraq was freeing hostages held by ISIS. Like so many of our Cherokee warriors, Joshua died serving our great country and we are forever indebted to him for his bravery and willingness to accept the most dangerous missions in the name of freedom and justice for the United State of America. Joshua is a true American hero and we will always honor his life and sacrifices at the Cherokee Nation. We are holding his wife, children, parents and extended family in our thoughts and prayers.”
Wheeler, who joined the Army in 1995, was assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Wheeler was preceded in death by his parents. He is survived by his wife and four children.