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On 3rd Tour, Soldier's Luck Runs Out
BY Roger Roy, Sentinel Staff Writer
24 February 2005
If not for the bullet wound in Vietnam that put Edgar Gil in the hospital for 18 months, he would have made a career of the Army.
"I loved the Army," Gil said. "You make good, good friends -- brothers, really. I was proud."
But Gil wasn't blind to the Army's faults. And when his son Carlos enlisted, Gil gave him hard-earned fatherly advice -- "You need to be strong, be proud" -- and a warning: "When you're a grunt, sometimes things aren't fair."
The truth of his father's words must have rung in Sgt. Carlos Gil's ears when in January he was sent back to Iraq for his third tour of duty in that war zone in less than two years.
This week, his family learned Carlos Gil was killed by an explosion in Humaniyuh, Iraq. He died the day after his 30th birthday, leaving behind a wife and a 4-year-old daughter who has seen precious little of her father since the war in Iraq began.
"He loved the Army, just like I did," Edgar Gil, 60, said Wednesday as he gazed at photos of his son taken the last time he saw him, during a visit back to the family's Orange County home at Christmas in 2003.
But Gil, a recently retired postal worker, is stung by the knowledge that the service he and his son loved exacted such a sacrifice.
"In the course of two years, he was sent to Iraq three times," Gil said. "That just seems unfair."
The Gil family, originally from Puerto Rico, lived in New York until moving to Orlando 11 years ago. Carlos, the second of four children, attended Valencia Community College, then went to work for the U.S. Postal Service before joining the Army six years ago.
When he joined, he was following a path set by his father and grandfather.
Edgar Gil served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade during the Vietnam War. His own father served in the Army more than 20 years, and saw duty in Korea and Vietnam. When Edgar Gil was sent home from Vietnam after being wounded, his father was sent to Vietnam for a yearlong tour of duty.
The Gils were proud when Carlos enlisted, and he expected to make a career of the military. But the constant rotations to Iraq and the time away from his wife and daughter, who have been living in Germany, made him change his plans, his mother Carmen said.
"After the war [in Iraq began], he said it wasn't the same; the Army changed," Carmen Gil said. "Some people never went to Iraq, and they kept sending the same people over and over again."
Carlos Gil was in Iraq during the initial part of the war that began in March 2003. He returned to his base in Germany, then was sent back for a second tour of duty. He had been back in Germany only a couple of months when he was transferred to another unit that was headed for Iraq, his parents said.
In January, Gil returned to Iraq for a third tour of duty that was scheduled to last a year.
Assigned to transportation units, Carlos Gil constantly traveled the convoy routes between Kuwait and Baghdad, prime targets for insurgents who strike U.S. forces with suicide bombs and explosives hidden along the roadside.
His mother said her son never spoke about the danger when he called from Iraq.
"He would talk about the family, about his wife and his daughter," Carmen Gil said. "He never talked about his missions."
But Edgar Gil knew the risks his son was taking on the roadways of Iraq.
"Every time I talked to him, I would say, `You need to stay strong; you need to stay alert,' " Gil said. "It's one of the worst duties over there, transportation."
The family still doesn't know the details of how Carlos Gil died. The Army has said only that he died of "injuries sustained from an improvised explosive device detonation" -- the homemade bombs that have killed many of almost 1,500 U.S. troops to die in Iraq. Carlos Gil was at least the 65th U.S. service member from Florida to die there.
On Wednesday, the Gils were preparing their home in east Orange County for the arrival in a few days of their daughter-in-law Farah and their granddaughter Jallisa -- whom her grandfather calls "Ja-Ja."
They will live with the Gils until they find a home of their own, Edgar Gil said.
While it will be a comfort to have them near, it will also be hard.
"Ja-Ja, she'll be the queen here," he said. "I love her so much."
But she'll be a constant reminder of the son he'll never see again.
"She has the same face, the same way of standing. She's like a replica of my son," Gil said.
Gil had long been planning a big party for his son's return from Iraq, a cookout at some property the family owns in the country. There would be food and music, and the whole family and all their friends would be there.
He knows those plans are over, but sometimes he still thinks about how it would have been.
"It would have been wonderful," he said Wednesday, sitting in the quiet of his living room while his wife mopped the dining-room floor. "It would have been the best party ever."