N.M. National Guardsman dies in Iraq

Staff and wire reports

SANTA FE — A Farmington soldier died Saturday morning in Iraq after being struck in the head by shrapnel from an explosive device, the governor’s office announced.

Sgt. Marshal A. Westbrook, 43, was married and the father of five children. A member of the Albuquerque-based 126th Military Police company, he is the first member of the New Mexico National Guard to be killed during combat in Iraq.

The unit, activated in October 2004, is expected to return to New Mexico next March.

Gov. Bill Richardson ordered that flags at state office buildings be flown at half staff. The governor said he spoke with the dead soldier’s wife and father, expressing his condolences.

“I am deeply saddened by his death and I ask all New Mexicans to join with me in honoring his passing,” Richardson said. “I will order the flags at half staff in his memory for the life he lived and his service to our nation.”

New Mexico was the first state to enact full insurance benefits for all members of the National Guard. According to the governor’s office, Westbrook’s survivors will receive $400,000 from his policy.

A National Guard spokesman said Westbrook was posthumously promoted from the rank of specialist.

Westbrook coincidentally is attached to the same unit as local guardsman James Montgomery profiled in today’s PNT. When contacted Saturday by the PNT, Montgomery said he knew Westbrook but declined to comment on his death.