By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHARANA, Afghanistan, April 27, 2011 – To the strains of “Amazing Grace,” hundreds of Task Force Currahee soldiers slowly filed into a warehouse-like multipurpose room here yesterday.
At the front of the room, facing rows of simple folding chairs, were the upright rifle, boots, helmet, dog tags and photograph of a man they will never see again.
The 101st Airborne Division’s “Currahee” 4th Brigade Combat Team from Fort Campbell, Ky., gathered to pay tribute to the 16th of its own to die since the brigade deployed to Afghanistan’s Paktika province last summer: Army Sgt. John Paul Castro, a 25-year old husband and father of two, who was killed April 22 when his unit was attacked by enemy small-arms fire.
Castro’s battalion commander, Army Maj. Justin Reese, spoke of the soldier who had been assigned to “Dealer Company,” 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, for his entire seven-year career, deploying once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.
Castro’s last mission was “a fight that occurred at distances measured in hand-grenade range, within a complex environment of walled mazes and collapsed structures during the hours of darkness,” Reese said. “It was within this context -- closing with and destroying a determined enemy force -- that Sergeant Castro gave his life.”
Reese praised Castro as a loving husband and father, brother and son.
“His selfless actions will never be forgotten by his brothers, our nation, and our Afghan partners,” he said. “Rest in peace, faithful warrior.”
Castro’s company commander, Army 1st Lt. William Weber, said although Castro had been shot during his last battle, he reported that he was fine and needed additional support.
“Unbeknownst to Sergeant Castro, the injuries he sustained were more severe than he realized,” Weber said. “Sergeant Castro lost his life before he realized he needed help.”
Castro’s platoon leader and two of his fellow soldiers also spoke, remembering the sergeant’s love for his wife and children, music and sports, family cookouts and working on cars. Army 1st Lt. Gregory Shoemaker said Castro was the sort of noncommissioned officer that every platoon leader wants serve with: a man of unparalleled distinction, the embodiment of a soldier, dedicated and mentally and physically resilient.
“To the men of 3rd platoon, he was a rock,” Shoemaker said. “The man who feared nothing, and who would be the first to be there for you, no questions asked.”
Army Spcs. Joseph Rhodes and Bo Rice said Castro was a dedicated leader, friend and mentor.
Rhodes said Castro was passionate about sports, and had “a fierce personality to be the best he could be,” yet always was ready to make friends laugh or help them through their troubles.
As a father, Castro had no equal, Rhodes said. “His love of his children went above and beyond, and was the strongest of any man who’s ever been graced to walk the Earth,” he said.
“John was that guy that everyone wanted right beside them when bullets start flying,” Rice said. “Here’s to you, John. … May you rest in peace.”
Army Chaplain (Maj.) Randall Robison read the 23rd Psalm and spoke of the young man the assembled soldiers were there to honor. “Remembering his commitment to his family, his team, his unit and his country should inspire all of us to dig deep, to do our best,” he said.
Each soldier -- two by two, then four by four -- marched to, saluted, and knelt before Castro’s displayed boots and helmet. Many of them placed tokens of remembrance on and around the wooden stand supporting the boots. A video game, a card listing the Army values, various unit coins, a baseball and a baseball glove were among the offerings. One soldier ripped the airborne and division patches from his sleeve and laid them down.
The mementos will be delivered to Castro’s family.