Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Trista L. Moretti dies 'when her unit was attacked by insurgents using indirect fire'

Trista L. Moretti chose the Army life, and loved it.

For a while, she wanted to become a teacher. But too much about her -- a taste for competition, exceptional athletic skills, a desire to see the world and a tough sensibility -- suggested she wasn't going to settle for a quiet life.

"She was fearless," said her sister, Jennifer Moretti.

Moretti, 27, died Monday in an attack by insurgents at an Army base near Nasir Lafitah, Iraq. According to the Department of Defense, her death was caused by indirect fire. Her family said she was asleep in her trailer when it was hit by mortar fire.

Moretti is at least the 78th soldier with ties to New Jersey, and the second woman from the state, to be killed in Iraq.

She was a signal intelligence analyst and paratrooper who joined the Army in 2003, and was assigned to the 425th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division.

Jennifer Moretti said the news of her sister's death came as a shock. Her family thought she was far from danger.

"We really thought she was safe on the base," she said. "I just talked to her last week. She never complained about it once."

Her sister worked nights at the base and slept during the day, Jennifer Moretti said. The family was told the attack took place at 12:45 p.m. local time in Iraq, she said. Twenty-one other paratroopers from the division were injured in the attack. Their injuries were listed as not serious, officials said.

Police cruisers stood guard yesterday outside the Moretti family's ranch home in South Plainfield. Four American flags flapped along the edge of the Morettis' front lawn, and sets of red, white and blue votive candles adorned the front steps.

"Trista Moretti will always be remembered as a loving and generous daughter, sister and friend," the family said in a statement. "She was a brave soldier who courageously served her country, sacrificing her life for the lives of others. She will be honored and cherished by all who knew her."

Next door, the parents of her close friend, Gloria Anthony, who previously served in the U.S. Army in Iraq, quietly spoke of the girl who would come over to relax in their pool.
"You always worry that something like this might happen," said Milton Anthony. He said he has spoken with his daughter in Texas, but she was too upset to talk about Moretti's death.

Sobbing, Milton's wife, Ailene, had trouble finding words to describe Moretti as she clutched at her screen door to steady her trembling arm.

"It's too much," she said, turning away. "It could've been my daughter, too."

Moretti's relatives said she was inspired to enlist after hearing Gloria Anthony's stories about being in the Army.

As the afternoon passed, tributes to Moretti arrived even from her friends serving overseas.

"Your daughter's life is to be admired," Sgt. Robin Stack, who is stationed in Camp Taji, Iraq, wrote in message attached to a bouquet of lilies, red myrtle, eucalyptus and camellia sent to Moretti's parents yesterday. "She was a wonderful person and an amazing solider."

Moretti is the first South Plainfield resident to be killed in Iraq. Across the borough, flags were flying at half-staff.

"It hits home when it is one of your own," said South Plainfield Mayor Charles Butrico. "Everybody I talked to in town is feeling bad about it. It is really quite sad to lose one of South Plainfield's own."

A 1998 graduate of South Plainfield High School, Moretti distinguished herself in athletics by earning nine varsity letters while participating in field hockey, winter track and spring track. She was a member of the high school's field hockey team that won the 1997 Middlesex County championship.

"Trista exuded enthusiasm and confidence and always gave 110 percent," said Kenneth May, South Plainfield High School principal. "She would light up a room by simply walking in. Looking back, she is a patriot, and I feel that she represents all that is good and respectful about her country."

Moretti's decision to enlist with the Army took the family by surprise, Jennifer Moretti said. Their father, Frederic, had been drafted into the Army and she said her sister asked about his experiences.

"What a horrible thing war is," said Moretti's neighbor Mike Kuzio, a World War II veteran. "I watched her grow up. It's so unfortunate. She was full of life, she was so young."

Jennifer Moretti said her sister was proud of her decision to serve.

"We're sad, but we're not angry at anybody," Jennifer Moretti said. "She never had a bad thing to say about being there."

From the Star Ledger