Saturday, February 03, 2007

Carla J. Stewart killed in vehicle rollover

GLENDALE - She first felt the call when she was just 17 - the need to serve her country, the honor of wearing Army-issued fatigues.

But Carla Stewart didn't realize her dream until she was 35, when she seized the last opportunity to enlist in the Army Reserves.

"She would say, `Mom, this uniform feels so right,"' Emmy Aprahamian said Tuesday, holding a photograph of a young woman proudly wearing the blue dress uniform of a private first class.

"She cared a lot for this country," Aprahamian said, tears dripping from eyes reddened by grief. "She was too good for this world."

On Sunday, Aprahamian was notified that her 37-year-old daughter - whose photograph adorns the walls and shelves of her Glendale home - had died while serving in Tallil, Iraq. Assigned to the 250th Transportation Company based in El Monte, Stewart was killed when her convoy vehicle overturned.

The Department of Defense says the incident is under investigation, but those words mean nothing to an anguished mother.

"How does this happen?" Aprahamian said. "She told me she would not be in combat. It wasn't supposed to happen like this."

Born in La CaƱada Flintridge and raised both there and in Glendale, Stewart had thought about enlisting in the service when she was 17.

"She was with her friend, but they got cold feet," Aprahamian recalled.

Instead, Carla learned mechanical drafting and worked alongside her father, Edmond Babayan, a former Marine. As she neared the cutoff age for the Army Reserves, she decided to enlist.

Aprahamian was born in Egypt and had lived in the Middle East, so knew the difficulties and strife involved in traveling in the region. Still, she loved her American-born daughter too much to discourage her aspirations.

"I thought, she is too good for a miserable place like Iraq," she said. "But I wanted to support her. For her to sign up, being a female, I admired her immensely. Not everyone has the guts to do it."

After completing basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., Stewart was deployed to Iraq. She was due to come home in March to her mother and brother, Richard Babayan, but had been told that her stay could be extended.

"We used to e-mail each other all the time," Aprahamian said. "Last time I talked to her, we talked a long time. She told me she had gone to Munich and that she was so happy to be there, to see the colors of the flowers."

Sitting in her living room, Aprahamian reflected on a daughter she said was so easy to raise.

"I know in these times people always say that," Aprahamian said. "They don't remember the bad times, but with Carla it was true. I could have had 10 Carlas here in this small house and it would have been like I didn't even have to raise her.

"She was not only my dear daughter, but she was also my very best friend. And now I've lost both."

From the Daily News