By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
The third Thursday of every month is always a profound day for the 1st Cavalry Division. It is when soldiers, families and leaders gather to honor those who will not return from Iraq with the division. But, on the third Thursday of November 2009, they gathered to remember two who lost their lives in battle and two who lost their lives at home coming from and going to battle.
Pfc. Daniel Jose Rivera died Oct. 18 in Mosul, Iraq, of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. Staff Sgt. Bradley Espinoza died Oct. 19 in Q-West, Iraq, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with a roadside bomb.
Spc. Jason Dean Hunt and Pvt. Francheska Velez died Nov. 5 when a gunman opened fire at Fort Hood's Soldier and Family Readiness Center.
Rivera was exactly where he wanted to be when he died –with his buddies, said his friend, Spc. Jose Guzman. When he went home during leave to visit his family, all he could talk about was getting back to his friends in Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
Rivera was raised by a single mother and she said that he – her first-born son – was the love of her life. He had a tough-guy mentality and wanted to do something big, she told Lt. Col. Andre Cieply, the division's rear detachment chaplain.
Rivera was 22 at the time of his death.
Espinoza was a 26-year-old combat engineer who embodied the motto of his military occupational specialty, "Clearing the way," said Capt. Russell Toll, rear detachment commander for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team's 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment.
Espinoza and Toll served in the brigade together in Baqubah during the division's second deployment to Iraq.
Roadside bombs wreaked havoc on the battalion and leaders decided that combat engineers would go out before patrols to clear the way. Toll said he had no doubt that Espinoza's work during that 15 months saved the lives of their fellow soldiers.
Espinoza set an example of a devoted husband, father and noncommissioned officer, Toll said. He was always there for his soldiers, even if it meant getting in the dirt with them.
Espinoza aspired to be a drill sergeant and was set to begin schooling after returning from Iraq. He had a presence about him that gave soldiers confidence, Cieply said.
Espinoza is survived by his wife, Maria, and their children, Joseph and Celeste.
Hunt was a 22-year-old infantryman preparing to head back to Iraq in December for his second deployment when he died.
He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, in April and served in the division's honor guard, helping to welcome and bid farewell to every returning or deploying soldier.
Hunt got married in August and was preparing to move his wife and their three children, Silver, Trinity and Tristan, to the Fort Hood area from Oklahoma. That move would have happened this week, said Capt. Robert Stigers, rear detachment commander for the battalion.
Hunt was a quiet, reserved guy who didn't mince words and got right to the point, Stigers said. The Oklahoma native was a reliable veteran – the type who served, came back and was ready to go again.
"We deeply miss him and we all pray for justice," Stigers said.
Velez participated in ROTC in high school in Chicago and fulfilled her father's dream of joining the military.
She was a fueler in the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, who returned from Iraq a few days before she died. She was three months pregnant and was set to go on maternity leave next month, Cieply said.
The 21-year-old was bright and charismatic, said Capt. Peter Friend, the battalion's rear detachment commander.
"She had the spirit of a child," Cieply said.
Velez wouldn't want fellow soldiers to remember her as a victim, Friend said.
"Remember her as your battle buddy," he said.
Velez is survived by her parents, Eileen Rodriguez and Juan G. Velez, and brothers, Juan and Andrew Velez.