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Iraq

A son gone too soon

Roberto C. Baez's family wishes they could have done more to prevent him from joining the Army.

By JUSTIN GEORGE
Published October 6, 2005


[Times photo: William Dunkley]
Army Pfc. Roberto C. Baez's mother, Jeannette Carrasco, and best friend, Brian Pena, mourn in Baez's room Wednesday over his death in Iraq. "We did not enjoy our son after high school," Carrasco said. Baez was 19 years old.

TAMPA - There was regret in Army Pfc. Roberto C. Baez's bedroom Wednesday.

His mother wished she never let her 19-year-old son join the military. His brother wished he would have coaxed Baez into the Navy.

But it's unlikely either could have persuaded the headstrong and confident Baez differently. The Army was his first job. He signed up for six years until his mother went back to the recruiter and changed his enlistment to three years. He slept next to a checklist that included running, pushups and situps, things to do to prepare for boot camp. He was proud of his meager pay and came home always asking his mother what she wanted to buy.

Baez died in Haqlaniyah, Iraq, on Monday, when an explosive device blew up near his Humvee, according to the Defense Department. He had three diplomas - infantry training, javelin course and airborne course - framed on his dresser. He had a can of spray starch on his entertainment center. He had an "Army of One" bumper sticker above his bed.

Baez was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.

"We did not enjoy our son after high school," Baez's mother, Jeannette Carrasco, 48, wailed from a hallway. The recruiter had stolen him away too quickly after his graduation from Tampa's Alonso High School.

Now, there is a blue candle pooling wax in the living room where Baez's picture sits on a small stand. He wears Army fatigues behind a stretched tight American Flag.

Nearby a stack of pictures are tossed on the dining room table. A picture of mother wrapping her arms around the neck of her youngest son, "Robertcito," little Robert, stands out.

"He really had everything," said Carlos Baez, 57, Roberto's father and Carrasco's husband. "A good friend; a good son."

Juan Carlos Baez, 28, said his brother wanted to join the military after Sept. 11, 2001. He used to quiz Juan about the Navy.

"He wanted me to talk to him about the Navy," Juan Carlos said. "I wasn't ready. I was going through some hard times, and I didn't open up about it."

So Roberto joined the Army when his time came.

"I would have rather he joined the Navy," Juan Carlos said, standing in his room, where baseball trophies and an apple-shaped pigg y bank sits on his dresser. "I just would have wanted to talk to him about the Navy or veer him to the Navy."

Roberto Baez's mother said he wanted the Army to pay for college so he could be a psychiatrist. He was good with people. He would befriend children. He would speak to seniors. He would give up his television for his young niece.

But his best friend of 16 years, Brian Pena, 18, said he was content finishing his career in the Army. He wanted to put in 20 years, Pena said.

"He wanted it to be his career," Pena said. "It was his first job, and he was proud of it."

Nearby are Baez's books: The U.S. Army Infantry Training Brigade. The Iraq War. Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six.

His mother knows he was meant for the military. He used to shut off the ceiling fan and air conditioner on Saturday mornings just to sweep his room when other teens would be sleeping.

"He was like a little big boy," she said.

"I'm upset," Carrasco added. "Being so young, they send him over there, and I don't agree with that. They're young kids."

Then she got tired of talking.

"I never get tired of talking unless someone hurt me," Carrasco said.

"It hurts me not to have him here."

[Last modified October 6, 2005, 01:13:15]


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