Remembering El Paso’s fallen soldiers

Military

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Nineteen soldiers from El Paso are listed as having fought and died in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn since 2003. These are their stories.

Army Staff Sgt. Roberto Loeza, 28, of El Paso, died May 25, 2012, in Charkh, Logar, province, Afghanistan, of injuries caused by indirect fire. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas.

Army Staff Sgt. Nicholas P. Bellard, 26, of El Paso, died June 13, 2011, serving during Operation New Dawn. He was assigned to the 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas; died June 13 of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device in Kut, Wasit, province, Iraq. Also killed was Army Sgt. Glenn M. Sewell.

Army Staff Sgt. Omar Aceves, 30, of El Paso, died Jan. 12, 2011, serving during Operation Enduring Freedom. He was assigned to the 7th Engineer Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.; died Jan. 12 in Ghelan, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. Also killed were Cpl. Jarrid L. King and Spc. Benjamin G. Moore.

Air Force Senior Airman Daniel R. Sanchez, 23, of El Paso, died Sept. 16, 2010, serving during Operation Enduring Freedom. Sanchez graduated from Montwood High School in 2005 before joining the Air Force, where he served with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla. He was killed on a deployment to Afghanistan, dying at a medical facility in Oruzgan province.

“He was always just go, go, go,” his mother, Yvette Duchene, told Air Force Times. “When his instructor talked to us [at boot-camp graduation], it was the first time I found out what a combat controller was. He told us — and pardon my French — that my son would be a badass.”

Army Spec. James J. O’Quin, 20, of El Paso, died July 23, 2010, serving during Operation Enduring Freedom. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Fort Campbell, Ky.; died July 23 in Orgun-E, Afghanistan, from drowning when he was swept away by the current when a levee broke near his military vehicle in Paktika, Afghanistan.

Army Staff Sgt. Joshua M. Mills, 24, of El Paso, died Sept. 16, 2009, serving during Operation Enduring Freedom. Mills graduated from Silva Magnet High School, where he was a member of the Junior ROTC and was on the rifle team. He joined the Army in 2005 and was assigned to Fort Bragg, N.C.

He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, Fort Bragg, N.C.; died Sept. 16 in Ghur Ghuri, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle on Sept. 15 with an improvised explosive device, about two months after deploying to Afghanistan. Also killed were Army Sgt. 1st Class Bradley S. Bohle, 29, of Glen Burnie, Md., and Army Sgt. 1st Class Shawn P. McCloskey, 33, of Peachtree, Ga.

He would always try to surprise you,” his brother, Quent Mills, told the Associated Press. “He’d come into town, but he wouldn’t tell you. He would just show up on your doorstep.”

Quent Mills said his brother followed in the footsteps of their father, Tommy, who was an air defense soldier at Fort Bliss.

Joshua Mills is also survived by his wife, Magen; a son, Malaki; his mother, Celeste; and his brothers.

Air Force Maj. Rodolfo I. Rodriguez, 34, of El Paso, died Sept. 20, 2008, serving during Operation Enduring Freedom. Rodriguez was among more than 50 people killed in an attack on the Marriot hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Rodriguez was the son of immigrant parents and grew up in El Paso. He earned selection to the Air Force Academy and graduated from there in 1998.

Maj. Andrew Sheehan, who met Rodriguez three years before his death, said he was proud of going from a child who learned English as his second language to being commissioned an Air Force officer. The wide range of experiences meant Rodriguez could relate to airmen of any rank.

“He wasn’t afraid to get his boots dirty,” Sheehan said. The deployment to Pakistan was Rodriguez’s third lengthy Central Command assignment since 2001, including six months at Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq, in 2006, said Sheehan.

The major’s survivors include his wife, Caryn; mother, Minerva Rivas; and two brothers.

Navy Airman Adrian M. Campos, 22, of El Paso, died April 21, 2008, serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Campos wanted to see the world, wanted to travel and see things most people just dream about, his brother, Carlos Campos, told the Associated Press.

Campos, 22, of El Paso, died in a Dubai hotel April 21 while off duty. He was a 2003 high school graduate and was assigned to the USNS Arctic.

Carlos Campos described his younger brother as an outgoing person who enjoyed helping others. “He was the life of the party,” he said. He planned to open a car repair shop when he eventually left the Navy.

He is survived by his wife, Sylvia, and a 1-year-old daughter, Gaby.

Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Gilbert Minjares Jr., 31, of El Paso, died Feb. 7, 2007, serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Minjares, a 1994 Hanks High School graduate, who played fullback and quarterback for the Knights, died just seven days after arriving in Iraq.

Minjares, along with six others, died in a helicopter crash in Anbar province.

“He gave me all his clothes and stuff, like he knew what was going to happen,” said Jose Minjares, Gilbert’s brother. “He told me, ‘If anything happens, I want you to let my kids know I did it for them.’”

Minjares is survived by his wife, a 2-year-old son and a 4-week-old baby living in North Carolina, said Eddie Pedregon, the seaman’s cousin. Gilbert Minjares also worked as a recruiter in El Paso, Jose Minjares said.

“He always wanted to give to others before he gave to himself,” Pedregon said. “His dream was to save Marines.”

Also killed in the crash were Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class (Petty Officer 3rd Class) Manuel A. Ruiz, Marine Capt. Jennifer J. Harris, Marine 1st Lt. Jared M. Landaker, Marine Sgt. Travis D. Pfister, Marine Cpl. Thomas E. Saba and Marine Sgt. James R. Tijerina.

Army Sgt. Velton Locklear III, 29, of El Paso, died Sept. 23, 2006, serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Locklear was a 1995 Eastwood High School graduate, where he was a standout wide receiver. After a semester in college, he followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Army.

He died of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee during combat operations in Riyadh, Iraq. Also killed was Pfc. Kenneth E. Kincaid IV.

He is survived by his wife, Denise, and his two sons, Nathan, and Velton IV, his parents, Ret. SGM Velton Locklear Jr. and Carmen Locklear; sisters Lori Lewis and Julie Angulo.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Ruben J. Villa Jr., 36, of El Paso, died Aug. 18, 2006, serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom from a non-combat-related cause in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.. Villa Jr. was a 1988 Bel Air High School graduate, where he played on the varsity soccer team and was involved in orchestra. His Army job designation was veterinarian, where he was sent to treat the local’s animals. He was assigned to Area Support Group (CFLCC), Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

He is survived by his wife, Cecilia, a daughter, two stepdaughters, and a stepson.

Marine Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, of El Paso, died Nov. 19, 2005, serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Terrazas was “unquestionably the most popular Marine in that platoon, the kind of guy with just a million-dollar heart and (who) smiled 24/7,” the platoon’s former commander, retired 1st Lt. Jesse Grapes, told Fox News.

Terrazas was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; attached to 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward); killed by an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in the vicinity of Hadithah, Iraq.

Army Sgt. Lorenzo Ponce Ruiz, 26, of El Paso, died October 12, 2005, serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Ruiz graduated from Ysleta High School in 1997 and enlisted in September 2001, arriving at Fort Riley, Kansas, in March 2002. He was on his second deployment to Iraq and was trained as a heavy vehicle driver.

He was assigned to the 24th Transportation Company, 541st Maintenance Battalion, Fort Riley, Kan.; killed Oct. 12, when his military vehicle collided with a civilian vehicle and overturned in Balad, Iraq. Also killed was Sgt. Donald D. Furman.

He is survived by his parents, Carlos and Cruz Ponce.

Army Capt. Sean P. Sims, 32, of El Paso, died Nov. 13, 2004, serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was killed when his unit came under small-arms fire while clearing a building in Fallujah, Iraq. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, Vilseck, Germany.

Sims was a 1994 Texas A&M University graduate, where he graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and received a distinguished military graduate commission into the U.S. Army as an Infantry officer.

He is survived by his wife, Heidi, and son Colin Patrick, who was just five weeks old when his father deployed to Iraq. Sims was the grandson of El Pasoan Ben L. Ivey and Leone O. Ivey of the Lower Valley.

Marine Lance Cpr. Michael S. Torres, 21, of El Paso, died July 5, 2004, serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Torres was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, at Twentynine Palms, Calif.; killed by enemy forces July 5 in Anbar province, Iraq.

He was a Cathedral High School graduate, where the team wore Torres’ number 81 on their jerseys during the 2004 football season in his honor.

“You wouldn’t imagine the outpouring of people from all over the country who are calling and coming to bid him goodbye,” Rossana Esparza told the Associated Press. Esparza said she managed to speak to her son before his death. “We just talked about how we missed each other and how much he missed everyone here and how he was trying to do his part in keeping the war away from our homeland,” Esparza said. “He wanted to extend our freedoms to other people.” Torres also is survived by his father and fiancée.

Army Spc. Isela Rubalcava, 25, of El Paso, died May 8, 2004, serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom. She was assigned to the 296th Combat Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), Fort Lewis, Wash.; killed May 8 when a mortar round hit nearby in Mosul, Iraq.

Rubalcava, known as “Sgt. Ruby” to her friends, was a 1996 Canutillo High School graduate and is the first and only El Paso woman ever killed in combat.

“This is a tragedy for us because she was just a girl,” her cousin, Hector Barragan told the Associated Press. “She was going to be 26. She will always hold a place in our hearts.” Barragan said Isela, who deployed to Iraq in November and was expected to return in March 2005, attended the University of Texas at El Paso and Sul Ross State University but joined the Army because “she wanted to serve her country.” “When my uncle and aunt first learned that Isela was going to Iraq, they were sad. But they supported her because she wanted to go,” he said. “We understand that this is part of the service, but it’s hard and we’re trying to manage.”

Isela Rubalcava Boulevard, near Canutillo High School, is named in her honor. She is survived by her parents, Ramon and Maria Isela Rubalcava, two younger brothers and her grandmother, Margarita Rubalcava.

Army Sgt. Ariel Rico, 25, of El Paso, died Nov. 28, 2003, serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based in Fort Campbell, Ky.; killed Nov. 28, during an enemy mortar attack in Mosul, Iraq.

Rico was a 1996 Del Valle High School graduate, where he met his wife, Jessica. The couple had a 7-year-old daughter, Jadelyn.

Army Master Sgt. George A. “Andy” Fernandez, 36, of El Paso, died April 2, 2003, serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was assigned to the Headquarters, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, N.C.; killed in action in northern Iraq. He was the third generation in his family to serve as a senior noncommissioned officer. In 1992, he enlisted as an infantryman and was assigned in November 2002 to the Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.

According to his obituary, Fernandez died after being shot in Northern Iraq. The soldiers were surrounded on a ridge in the mountains in Northern Iraq, when Fernandez jumped in his humvee and drove directly into enemy lines. The others were able to escape through the opening he created. 

Shortly after Fernandez’s death, a base camp in Iraq was named in his honor: Camp Fernandez-Long-Plank. For his courageous actions as an American warrior in combat, the Army posthumously awarded Master Sgt. Fernandez the Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device, the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. Andy leaves behind his wife, Kathryn and a son.

Army Pvt. 2 Ruben Estrella-Soto, 18, of El Paso, died March 23, 2003, serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was assigned to 507th Maintenance Company, Fort Bliss; killed in an ambush near Nasiriyah, Iraq.

Estrella-Soto was a born in Ciudad Juarez, but moved to El Paso. He graduated from Mountain View High School, where he played football. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen and was proud to wear his uniform.

He was killed when his convoy took a wrong turn and was ambushed. He was identified as one of the eight soldiers found dead during the rescue of American POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch.

El Paso County dedicated Estrella Park in his memory, located at 14590 Greg Dr. in Montana Vista, and his image is memorialized in the lobby of San Juan Diego Catholic Church, where his family is faithful parishioners.

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