By Alex Byington
Fort Hood Herald
Built like a brick wall, Sgt. 1st Class Pablo Castro was a large and imposing man by nature - the epitome of an Army Ranger paratrooper.
But with his teenage daughter Alyssa, "Toti" - as his friends and family called him - would trade his tough-guy persona for that of a doting dad.
On leave having just returned from his second tour in Iraq the summer of 2008, the 22-year service veteran of 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division out of Fort Lewis, Wash. was making up for lost time with his two children - Alyssa and her older brother Cameron.
While playing a game catch with Alyssa in the back yard of his South Florida home, who would be entering her freshman year at Ellison High School that fall semester, it was her father who would whine about how hard the ball was being thrown.
"He would always complain, because he would say that I throw too hard, and his thumb was hurting," Alyssa recalled with a smile. "He (even) had to buy one of those protective thumb-pads to put under his glove."
Now the Lady Eagles' starting pitcher as a sophomore, Alyssa remembers that time with her father fondly ... because it was the one of the last they shared together.
It's been nearly two years since her father died in a skydiving accident, but each time Alyssa toes the rubber for Ellison, she looks at her Army-green wristband bearing the inscription W.W.T.D. (What would Toti do?) and her father is never far from her mind.
It was a perfect summer day and Castro was spending it with his children doing what he loved - skydiving.
"Every time we went to Florida, he had to take one day out of the vacation to go skydiving, and we'd be there to watch him coming out of the plain - he loved doing it," Alyssa said.
With his children there to greet him when he landed, he did the same thing he'd done hundreds of time before as a paratrooper - he jumped.
But what started out so simple went terribly wrong when he and another parachutist collided about 50 feet from the ground on final approach.
Waiting for their father to walk through the doors of a building designated for such things, Alyssa tried to be strong.
"Every time my dad was skydiving, I always had it in my mind 'What if something happens?'" she said. "But my dad was a pro at that stuff, so I really couldn't worry that much, I wasn't really worried that much."
At least she didn't until a frantic worker stormed into the waiting area, alerting everyone something bad had happened.
Terrified and fearing the worst, Alyssa and her brother took off for the landing site, which is now surrounded by emergency vehicles.
"When I get out there, I'm hoping it's not bad, I'm hoping it's a sprain or something, hoping he's not injured," Alyssa recalled. "... But when I get there, I start crying because they're putting a brace around his neck to stabilize his spine, and I just start balling because I don't know what's going to happen with him."
While the other jumper died upon impact, Toti fought before finally succumbing to the severe head trauma on the operating table.
Fighting depression, anger
Following the funeral, Alyssa and her brother returned home to Killeen with their mother, Lisa Hennesse, a civilian with Directorate of Logistics at Fort Hood.
Dealing with bouts of anger and depression, Alyssa found the first several months the most difficult to cope.
"Unfortunately, i was letting anger out on people," Alyssa said. "When my mom noticed it, I let her know right away I thought I was depressed."
Whether it was snapping at the occasional friend or family member, or the sometimes all too frequent temper tantrums in the dugout during a rough outing, it was obvious Alyssa was taking her father's death particularly hard.
But with the help of therapy, and the support of her teammates and coaches on the softball team, she found a way to deal.
"Not everybody understands what I've been going through, but they really try to help a lot, and it's good to know the team is there to talk to me," Alyssa said. "Whether they've been through (a similar) situation or not, they're there still there to understand and help me out if I need to talk to someone."
Still fighting back bouts of anger at times, she admitted there are setbacks.
"It's been two years and I've kind of gotten a little bit better, but I do have a lot of ups and downs, and all of the sudden I'll start thinking about my dad again and that just blends in with what my problem is, and it just starts all over again - the sadness and everything," Alyssa said.
But, whether its on the mound or in everyday life, Alyssa needs only look down at her Army-green bracelet and she remembers her mission - to make her father proud.
Contact Alex Byington at email@example.com or at (254) 501-7566. Follow him on Twitter at KDHsports.