Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fort Bliss Soldiers Honor Fallen Comrade’s Promise

By Army Maj. George Chigi and Army Capt. Kapualani Ampong-Duke
1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment

EL PASO, Texas, June 25, 2014 – Soldiers dressed in Army dress blue uniforms filled the front seats at the Mountain View High School graduation ceremony here June 7.

It was a unique sight, even for a city located just outside Fort Bliss. As Lluvia Loeza’s name was called, the soldiers rose to their feet and rendered a salute.

Lluvia’s brother, Army Staff Sgt. Roberto Loeza Jr., was an infantry squad leader and headquarters platoon sergeant in Company C, 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. He deployed with his unit to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011.

Before departing for Afghanistan, Loeza promised Lluvia, his youngest sister, that he’d watch her walk the stage at her high school graduation, but he couldn’t keep his promise. Loeza died of injuries suffered in an indirect-fire attack May 25, 2012, while serving in Afghanistan’s Logar province.

Army Staff Sgt. William Berry, a member of Company C and Loeza’s comrade, recalled that his fallen friend “was a loving and caring father and family man. His soldiers held him in very high regard and respected his leadership and presence.”

Loeza’s brother, Esteban, wanted to surprise his sister. He sent out a message through Facebook to his fallen brother’s old unit asking for volunteers to stand in his place at his sister’s graduation. The call was answered immediately.

Though the majority of the unit is deployed once again to Afghanistan, the battalion’s rear detachment, known as Task Force Stalwart West and led by the battalion executive officer, Maj. George Chigi, along with Maj. Christopher Penwarden and Sgt. 1st Class Bernie Brooks, organized a group of soldiers to attend Lluvia’s graduation.

More than 30 soldiers from the fallen soldier’s battalion attended the graduation. Also in attendance were several soldiers from the Fort Bliss area who knew Loeza well, including Penwarden and Sgt. 1st Class Jason Yeazel.

Lluvia was completely surprised by the stalwart soldiers who attended her graduation. Making the event even more special, Chigi got permission from the school district’s superintendent to present Lluvia with her high school diploma.

Lluvia was just as impressive as her older brother; her discipline and drive earned her the distinction of the 4th-highest grade point average in her high school. Her scholastic efforts earned her more than $100,000 in college scholarships.

The entire Loeza family was overwhelmed with emotion. They were happy to see the support for their fallen son and Lluvia. The families of the other graduating students were awestruck by members of the 1-41st battalion as they rendered honors to Loeza, their fallen comrade, his sister and family.

“It was a very emotional and uplifting event for us and the family. All and all we fulfilled a fallen soldier’s promise and we did it with pride and honor and represented the 1-41 Infantry Battalion with nothing but the upmost respect and pleasure doing it for the family,” said Brooks, Company C’s first sergeant.

As the battalion’s soldiers gathered to say goodbye to the Loeza family, Berry presented Lluvia with a battalion coin. These coins are traditionally only given by the battalion commander and command sergeant major to soldiers for extreme excellence in the performance of their duties. Lluvia was also presented with a Bulldog Brigade coin.

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