Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Marisol Heredia dies 'at Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, of injuries suffered from a non-combat related injury July 18 in Baghdad'

The last time she heard from Marisol Heredia, Mountain View High School teacher Kris Hanna said her former French pupil had some special requests.

"She wanted me to send her Flaming Hot Cheetos, Doritos, beef jerky, truffles and a French dictionary," said Hanna of the last e-mail she received from Heredia, adding that she was only able to include the Doritos and beef jerky in a small care package she sent her in May.

By the time the 19-year-old received the package, she was lying in an Army hospital bed with horrific burns all over her body, the result of an accident she suffered while stationed at her Army base in Baghdad, Iraq, on July 18.

When the El Monte native succumbed to her injuries Friday at a Texas military hospital, she became the first female soldier from the San Gabriel Valley to die in the 4-year-old Iraq War.

Hanna and family members described Heredia as a unique individual who was funny and quirky yet mature for her age, a young woman who loved French culture as much as she did rooting for her favorite basketball team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

"She was quirky, insightful, and had a mind of her own," Hanna said.

She added that Heredia was a dedicated student with a GPA in the 3.5 range who graduated a half year early in 2005 to follow her older sister, Claudia, into the Army.

"She definitely wasn't run of the mill," Hanna said.

Military officials declined to provide details about the incident that took Heredia's life, other than to say that she suffered "noncombat-related injuries."

"We still have it under investigation, so I can't comment on it," said Nancy Bourget, a spokeswoman at Fort Hood, Texas, where Heredia was assigned as a petroleum supply specialist for the 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

Heredia was deployed to Iraq last October, Bourget said in an e-mail.

Hanna said that according to family members, Heredia had been refueling a generator at her Army base at the time of the accident.

"They said there was a spark and the gasoline spilled on her, burning 80 percent of her body," Hanna said. "The only parts of her body that weren't burned were her feet, which were protected inside her boots."

By the time Hanna heard about the accident at the beginning of the school year from Heredia's younger sister, Carline, a junior at Mountain View, Heredia's wounds had become infected and her condition had taken a turn for the worse. She died days later.

Heredia, one of four sisters, was a well-behaved child who was always very studious, said her stepfather, Jose Luis Dominguez.

"We were very proud of her," said Dominguez, speaking from the family's modest apartment on Penn Mar Avenue. "She was an excellent child, and was very good to everyone."

He said the family tried to talk Heredia out of joining the Army after high school, but she was determined. The teen enlisted in July 2005, just six months after graduating.

"The last time I took her to the airport, I told her not to let her guard down, that there would be people out to get her," said Dominguez, a textile worker whose family has lived in El Monte for 20 years and who only speaks Spanish. "But she told me, "Don't worry, Dad. I am well prepared."
Even before his stepdaughter's death, Dominguez said he was against the war, and he disagreed with the assessment of military commanders in Washington this week that troop levels in Iraq must remain in place until at least next summer.

"I just don't think it is just," he said. "It needs to end. (The troops) all need to come home."

Hanna, who called the war "stupid," said she was also dismayed when Heredia told her of her plans to enlist.

"She really looked up to her sister, and wanted to follow in (Claudia's) footsteps," said Hanna, who taught both girls French at Mountain View. "Claudia tried to talk her out of the military, but she was very determined."

Hanna said she believed that in addition to her dedication to her sister, Heredia chose an Army career because of the opportunities for travel it would afford her.

"She got to visit France with her sister, who was stationed in Germany at the time," said Hanna, her eyes tearing up, voice trailing off. "She spent three weeks in Paris, saw the Louvre, everything."

Hanna plans to fly on Sunday to Baton Rouge, La., where Heredia will be buried on what would have been her 20th birthday.

"It is where her sister and her family live," said Hanna. "They were very close. Claudia said she not only lost a sister, but a best friend."

Heredia's death pushed the number of San Gabriel Valley residents killed in Iraq over 30, according to records compiled by the Tribune. About 3,762 American servicemen and women have died in the conflict so far, according to Department of Defense estimates.

From the San Gabriel Valley Tribune