Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Alphonso J. Montenegro II dies 'of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'

Sgt. Alphonso Montenegro of Far Rockaway was a week from completing his three-year enlistment last June when the Army informed him he was not going home after all.

"He had all his stuff packed," his mother, Sandra Montenegro, recalled yesterday. "They told him he couldn't come because he was going to Iraq."

Her son had served one tour in Iraq in 2004 when he was just 19, having graduated from Far Rockaway High School and enlisting with the hope of going on to college afterward. He was just turning 21 and making ready to head home to take the next step in his dream of going into medicine when he was instead deployed for a second tour in Iraq.

"He was so upset because they told him he had to do another year," the mother recalled.

But, whatever he felt, his commander still rated him as one of the top soldiers in the 2nd Brigade "Dagger" Combat Team.

"Whatever he did, he did 100%," the mother said.

The son was allowed to come home on Dec. 1 and he had not forgotten his dream.

"He had so many plans," his mother later said.

He had hoped to stay for the holidays, but he was ordered back on Dec. 19. He usually did not like to have his picture taken, but he made a request before he headed back to war.

"He told me he wanted a picture of us together," she recalled.

He also said something that would come back to her.

"He said, 'Ma, they're going to come to you when something bad happens,'" she remembered.

On Christmas, he was in Iraq. He was still there on Mother's Day, when he made sure to call her and arrange for flowers to be delivered. He called again on June 9, his 22nd birthday. He was thrilled that a package from home had arrived that very day.

"Candy and potato chips," the mother said. "He called to say thank you. He was so happy."

He may have been a solider on his second combat tour, but she still called him "Fofo," as she had since he was a tyke.

"When he was little, he couldn't say 'Alphonso,' He said, 'Fofo,' so we kept that name for him forever," she later explained.

Now, her Fofo was in Iraq and neither one wanted to get off the phone for fear of never hearing each other's voice again.

"He doesn't like to hang up and I don't like to hang up," the mother later said. "I always think this is going to be the last time."

When they could stay on the line no longer, they said some final words.

"I love you," she said.

"I love you," he said.

"I am so proud of you," she said.

"I love you and I miss you and I am going to see you soon," he said.

Thirteen days later, the mother awoke at 6 a.m. with a horrifying dream that her son was dead.

"I couldn't stop crying," she said. "I went to work crying."

She was at her job as a dental assistant when she got a call.

"My nephew called and said I need to come home," she recalled.

She knew the soldiers would be there to tell her the worst when she arrived home. Her son and four other soldiers had been killed the day before.

"They told me bomb, no, not bomb, how do you say?" she recalled yesterday.

"IED?" a reporter asked.

"Yes, that's what killed my baby," she said.

She went on to say that the commanding officer had called and said her son had not been scheduled to go on patrol that day.

"He volunteered and that was the day that he died," the mother said.

The mother was not at all surprised that her son had given his all no matter how unhappy he was at being held another year.

"The commander said he was always there for the other soldiers," the mother remembered. "And he saved many lives. All his friends are devastated just like us, because that was his family there."

She had her son when she was just 15 and he had helped her raise her four other children. His body was on the way to where she now lives in North Carolina. She could not decide whether to bury him there or in New York, beside the grandmother whose death from cancer had prompted him to announce he was going into medicine.

"I know he wanted to be with his grandmother, but it's hard for me to send him away again," the mother said.

From the New York Daily News