POCATELLO - Kathleen Stephens said community support helped her deal with her son's death in Iraq, and she said, local support also lifted the spirits of soldiers with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team still in the country.
Her son, Sgt. Blake Stephens, 25, was killed 18 miles south of Baghdad Tuesday when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. Spc. Kyle Little, of Massachusetts, was also killed in the attack.
Kathleen Stephens said the unit's commanding officer read the troops newspaper articles about events set in Pocatello to honor Blake this week and the outpouring of local support encouraged the soldiers still battling insurgents in Iraq.
"The community of Pocatello has just outdone itself," she said. "That's the only way we're getting through this."
The Stephens family hosted a special memorial service Saturday to allow friends, family and the community an opportunity to pay tribute to Blake Stephens.
More than 500 flags lined South Fifth Street and members of POW/MIA Awareness Rally Inc. turned out to direct traffic, assist with parking and pay tribute to the fallen soldiers.
"They love Blake because he did what they've done," Kathleen Stephens said. "It's like family."
POW/MIA spokesperson Jennifer Bowen said the family invited the group to participate in the memorial, but she said a number of local service organizations were involved.
"It really was a community effort," she said.
About 50 motorcycles turned out for the memorial service.
POW/MIA member Doc Tweedy said the group's mission is to support active, retired and disabled military personnel.
"It's not because Blake was the first Pocatellan killed in Iraq, it's not because of the community support," Tweedy said. "It's because it's the right thing to do, it's what we do."
Following an ambush on Saturday that left five troops dead, he said, three U.S. soldiers are now listed as missing in action in Iraq.
Blake's father, Trent Stephens, said Saturday's memorial, which drew hundreds of well-wishers to the family's hilltop home in south Pocatello, was a spontaneous event.
"We decided to do this because of the length of time until his funeral," Trent Stephens said. "The military said it could take up to two weeks before he gets home. We wanted to do something in between."
After returning from an LDS mission, Blake Stephens, the youngest of five children, served in the Idaho National Guard for six years before joining the U.S. Army and his father said his faith helped him to be fearless.
"He said that if he got killed it would be a fluke, an IED or something," Trent Stephens said.
The large turnout Saturday didn't surprise him.
"It did surprise his commander though," Trent Stephens said. "He said this is very unusual."
Blake Stephens' wife of five years, Erin, said her husband would have loved the memorial.
"He never did anything small in his life," she said.
Erin said the support of family, friends and the community have helped her to deal with the loss of her "soulmate."
"My own beliefs and my belief that he would want me to be strong are helping me," she said.