Saturday, June 09, 2007

Richard Correa remembered

Army Sgt. Richard Correa and his fiancee, Corey Dell of Jacksonville, agreed that they would not marry until she graduated from college and he returned home safety from Iraq.

The couple had planned to wed in late December, capping a three-year courtship.

But their best-laid plans were shattered last week by a roadside bomb.

Correa, an Army Ranger on his second tour of duty in Iraq, was on a foot patrol south of Baghdad when an improvised explosive device detonated near his position.

The blast killed Correa, 25, and Staff Sgt. Joseph Weiglein, 31. Both men were members of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. The unit, based in Fort Drum, N.Y., was scheduled to return home in July, but recently had its deployment extended another four months.

“He called me every day. He always downplayed things over there,” Dell said Monday from her parents’ home in Pensacola.

“The last conversation I had with him, he said, ‘Things are real crazy here.’ ”

That statement by Correa raised a red flag with Dell, a health science major at the University of North Florida.

It was a rare admission of concern by Correa, a gung ho soldier who planned to try out for Delta Force, the legendary U.S. counterterrorist unit, when his enlistment was up in November.

“He wanted me to help him train for (Delta Force) selection,” said Dell, a fitness consultant at Bailey’s Powerhouse Gym in Jacksonville Beach.

“When he got back, he was going to take me to the Philippines to meet his parents. He hadn’t been back there for seven years.”

Correa was born in the Philippines and lived with a cousin in Hawaii before enlisting in the Air Force at age 18. He met Dell while he was stationed in Fort Walton Beach.

Bored with his Air Force job as a vehicle mechanic, Correa switched to the Army, where he completed airborne training and was selected to become an elite Army Ranger.

Dell pinned the coveted ranger tab on Correa’s uniform at Fort Benning, Ga., and moved to Jacksonville in 2004 when her fiancee was assigned to an Army base near Savannah.

She is scheduled to graduate in August from UNF and has just begun an internship at Memorial Hospital.

“Now, I’m not sure what I’m going to do after college,” a despondent Dell said Monday as she contemplated life without Correa, who proposed to her before his first tour of duty in Iraq.

“I had never met anyone like him. He knew what he wanted. He wanted to do something extraordinary with his life.”

Correa, who attained U.S. citizenship last November while stationed in Iraq, will be buried in the Philippines later this month.

Dell plans to stay in Jacksonville this summer and finish up work on her degree. After graduation, she plans to fly to the Philippines and meet Correa’s mother for the first time.

“That’s what Richard would have wanted,” added Dell, who last saw Correa in March when he was in Jacksonville on a two-week leave from the war zone.

“He always said he was coming home to me.”

From the Leader

Related Link:
Richard V. Correa dies of 'wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his position during a dismounted patrol'