Local Paper Covers Non-Combat Death of Female Soldier

By: E&P Staff

As we have often noted in the past, to gauge the true cost of the Iraq war on Americans and their families one needs to consult local newspapers. They go well beyond the simple death toll of 2700 or 3700 or whatever it might be to show the impact of the thousands of wounded, those who died in non-combat situations or through suicide, and the views of their loved ones.

We recently examined how Nevada papers were covering the suicide of a soldier, Travis Vergidamo, who had clear mental problems and was taking Prozac, according to his family.

Another sad example appeared late this week in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, in an article by Fred Ortega.

Here is an excerpt, concerning Marisol Heredia.

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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 1/2-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.”

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