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U.S. Army battalion, Marines honor fallen soldier, medic killed in Iraq

31 Aug 2006 | Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin

U.S. Army Sgt. David J. Almazan was a loving husband, a superb leader, a true soldier, and a caring person.

That’s the person fellow U.S. soldiers remembered during a memorial service for the 26-year-old Army medic Aug. 31.

Almazan was killed in action Aug. 27  while on a combat patrol in this city of 30,000 in Iraq’s Al Anbar province. His platoon was on patrol to clear the city’s streets of improvised explosive devices, deadly roadside bombs used by insurgents to target coalition and Iraqi forces, the day he was killed.

“He was my squad leader, and a leader he was,” said Spc. Justin Teplitz, who reported for duty at “about the same time as Sgt. Almazan” in Germany. “He lived by the NCO creed, and all Army values, and always acted as a professional who cared about the soldiers.”

Teplitz recalled speaking with Almazan shortly before they both deployed for Iraq: “He asked me and a few others, optimistically, if we were ready to go to Iraq, earlier this month,” said Teplitz. “Then he offered us his wife’s delicious blueberry muffins she made especially for his soldiers. He loved his wife, and told me he missed her, and showed me a picture of the two of them, while we were in Kuwait.”

Almazan, of Van Nuys, Calif., served with the Friedberg, Germany-based 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment – the U.S. Army unit assigned to provide security in this mostly Sunni city in Iraq, located about 70 miles northwest of Ramadi.

As one of the unit’s medics, Almazan frequently took time to ensure the men who were “fighting the fight” were healthy, and taken care of. His presence added comfort to fellow soldiers while they conducted counterinsurgency operations throughout the city, according to fellow soldiers, where roadside bombs, as well as small-arms fire and indirect fire attacks against U.S. and Iraqi military forces are frequent.

“He made the soldiers feel that much more at ease,” said 1st Lt. Joshua Zeldin, Almazan’s medical platoon leader. “I’m not just talking about the soldiers he served with on the ground, but also the medics he took the time to train.

Prior to Iraq, Almazan served in Afghanistan as a medic with 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment.

During the ceremony, fellow soldiers took turns speaking of their memories and experiences of Almazan, known as  “Doc” to some and  “Al” to others.

“He lived by the NCO creed, and all Army values, and always acted as a professional who cared about the soldiers,” said Teplitz, one of dozens of U.S. soldiers and Marines who gathered to pay final respects to Almazan during a mid-morning service here.

“The younger soldiers in his platoon, many fresh out of school, would look up to him for courage as they prepared to face battle for the first time,” said Capt. Sean B. Coulter, Almazan’s company commander. “He did not balk at his duties. Saving the lives of his fellow soldiers in battle was his calling.”

“(He was) a combat crewman veteran who would have proudly been a “lifer” in the United States Army, and husband to a wife he cared so much about,” added Teplitz.

Almazan’s memory was represented in true military fashion during the 30-minute ceremony: a Kevlar helmet set atop a rifle, stuck bayonet-first into a wooden pedestal and adorned with his dog tags; combat boots, and a folded American flag.

Almazan’s portrait was set at the base of the pedestal.

During the ceremony, seven soldiers armed with M-16 rifles fired three unified shots toward the sky  for Almazan  – a 21-gun salute, followed by the playing of “Taps.”

His military awards and decorations, including a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, were set atop the pedestal.

“He was a Spartan through and through,” said Lt. Col. Thomas C. Graves, 1-36’s commanding officer. “He served his country with distinction, willing to go anywhere, and do anything for his family soldiers, for Hit, and for his nation.”

The battalion, part of Regimental Combat Team 7, arrived in Iraq in January. The unit’s soldiers have spent the past seven-plus months ousting insurgents from Hit and developing Iraqi soldiers to conduct their own security operations.

RCT-7 is the Marine Corps unit responsible for providing security and mentoring Iraqi Security Forces in western Anbar – an area more than 30,000 square-miles in size which stretches from the Jordanian and Syrian borders hundreds of miles east to Hit, a city about 70 miles northwest of Ramadi.

Almazan, a 1997 graduate of Van Nuys Senior High School, was the third soldier from the battalion who was killed during combat operations here. Spc. Michael J. Potocki, a 21-year-old native of Baltimore, Md., and Pfc. Jeremy Wayne Ehle, a 19-year-old from Alexandria, Va., both died due to wounds received in combat operations.

Potocki died June 26; Ehle died April 2.

Almazan, who migrated from Guadalajara, Mexico, to the United States when he was 12 years old, was in Iraq less than a month when he was killed.

Leaving his “favorite duty station,” at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, according to Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Faust, Almazan reported for duty with 1-36 in Germany in May. He joined the battalion in Iraq Aug. 10.

“Al was a humble person. He never had anything bad to say about the mission,” said Faust, a platoon sergeant. “I know you’re looking down on us today and saying, ‘Stop crying, right now. I’m in good hands with God, so carry on with the mission.’ ... Your wishes will be fulfilled.”

Email Staff Sgt. Goodwin at: goodwinjm@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil.