SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) – Members of a U.S. Army unit have been spending their time searching for an Ohio soldier missing in Iraq for more than a year.

To the troops of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, finding Army Reserve Sgt. Keith “Matt” Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, has become a quest that defines their values as soldiers.

“He needs to go home to his family,” First Sgt. Joseph Sanford told an Iraq-based reporter for The Post-Standard of Syracuse, N.Y. “And there needs to be closure for his family. Those are the two things we’re trying to bring: closure to his family, and a way to send this young man home.”

Maupin has been missing since April 9, 2004, when his fuel truck convoy was ambushed by insurgents west of Baghdad after leaving the camp. The Army lists him as “missing-captured.”

Thirty-two members of the Fort Drum, N.Y.-based unit spent seven hours Saturday inching over terrain, overturning rocks and probing bushes on a stretch of land between two highways in the Abu Ghraib section west of Baghdad.

A tip had suggested that Maupin’s body might be there, so they parceled the tract into sections and moved systematically through them. It was the third day of searching the area.

They had dug 45 holes and bagged and tagged 10 items that could hold the answers to Maupin’s fate, including a scrap of military clothing. Each will be shipped to a lab for analysis.

“The physical search is the key,” said Sanford, 38, a native of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “It’s all hands-on. It’s picking up every rock, it’s looking under every bush, it’s turning over every piece of clothing or trash that we find out there.”

Sanford cited the Warrior Ethos, in which a soldier vows never to leave a comrade behind.

“When it all comes down to it, it’s about the man on your left and the man on your right,” Sanford said. “It’s all about protecting their flanks and making sure they get home.”

Sgt. Bryan Hatfield, 27, of Oklahoma City, said hope of finding Maupin keeps him searching.

“We may go out there day after day, time after time, scouring the grounds … then comes that one time, you might find something, and it’ll be worth it,” Hatfield said. “The hope is always there that, yeah, he could be here. So I’ll go and look.”

Sanford said he will continue to look for Maupin as long as he is deployed in Iraq.

“I never met Sergeant Maupin, but I’ve looked at his picture, and I’ve read the reports about him,” Sanford said. “He’s got a family. He’s got a mother and a father, and they love him, and they want him to come home. His parents haven’t given up, and I don’t think we have the right to.”

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