Monday, February 26, 2007

Kelly Youngblood remembered

A 19-year-old Mesa soldier told his mother before he went to Iraq, “I’ll do what I gotta do and I’ll be home.” U.S. Army Pvt. Kelly David Youngblood arrived in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, 76 miles west of Baghdad, on Feb. 2. Sixteen days later, he was killed by a sniper as he exited the tank he’d been driving.

He’d served in the military for one year, one month and one day.

Army officers hand-delivered Youngblood’s last letter to his sister, in which he called Ar Ramadi “terrorizing” and described the fear and horror he experienced.

“There are no phones where I’m at so I can’t call, and no Internet, so I can’t write,” Youngblood typed to his 16-year-old sister, Melaney, several days before his death. “I’m afraid to leave the building to (go to) the tank because there are snipers everywhere.”

From the day he arrived, Youngblood was surrounded by violence.

On his first day at the combat outpost, he stepped outside to videotape an exchange of gunfire in the city. But he became more than a witness. A rocket blew the video camera from his hand, and killed his friend “Zimmerman” in the process.

He wrote that two days later, a rocket-propelled grenade hit five feet from his tank. “But I had already loosened up by then. I don’t even get scared when I hear gunfire,” he wrote.

Youngblood moved to Mesa 11 years ago from La Porte, Ind., with his mother, Kristen Chacon, and sister, recalled his stepfather, TJ Chacon.

He attended Tempe’s McClintock High School and later worked as a sandwich maker in southwest Mesa before joining the army.

“He was a pretty simple kid,” his stepfather said. “He didn’t ask for much. He always liked to joke around.”

Before enlisting in the military, Youngblood enjoyed skateboarding, riding his bike and playing video games with friends.

He’d thought of going to film school, Kristen said. And he’d thought of a career in the military. But everyone else said he should be a comedian. His fourth grade teacher once told her she’d be surprised if he didn’t write for David Letterman when he grew up.

Kristen Chacon sat in her backyard in the Dobson Ranch area of Mesa Tuesday afternoon, flanked by friends and family, food piling up in the kitchen. A small, furry dog scampered to and fro, pausing beneath the lemon tree, then returning to sniff visitors’ feet.

“I keep telling people not to bring food — we’re not hungry,” she said warmly, taking a draw on a cigarette. She turned to several of her co-workers from Desert Vista Behavioral Health, who dropped by to show their support. “I wish you guys could have gotten to meet him — he’s so awesome,” she said.

The weather had been beautiful Sunday before officers knocked on her front door to deliver the bad news. She’d been drinking a cup of coffee.

“It’s like Armageddon there,” she said of Iraq. She said she wanted people to be reminded of the soldiers who are out fighting and dying.

“We could have used them here,” she added.

Youngblood had “always wanted to be in the army, ever since he was a little kid,” said his step-grandmother, Deanna Chacon. She said he “always played army and wore camouflage pants.”

“I just can’t believe Bush would send someone out of basic training straight to Iraq,” she continued. “They didn’t have a chance to begin with,” she said of new, young soldiers.

His mother said Youngblood was stationed in Savannah, Ga., and Kuwait before being sent to Iraq.

“This young brave man who gave his life for his country deserves to have recognition for his bravery in serving our country,” his step-aunt, Natalie Anguiano, wrote to the Tribune.

Youngblood’s mother said the funeral will be March 3, but she has not yet chosen a funeral home. His funeral will be public, and she plans to have him buried in Arlington National Cemetery, which is reserved for soldiers killed in combat.

From the Tribune

Related Link:
Kelly D. Youngblood slain by sniper