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SO FL SUN SENTINEL
Forest Hill High Comforts Teacher Whose Brother Died In Iraq
By Nancy L. Othón
April 27 2005
Within weeks, 160 soldiers stationed in Iraq will start receiving the boxes, probably more than 50 of them, filled with cards, candy and necessities from West Palm Beach.
They'll read the notes tucked inside from Forest Hill High School and they'll learn why teachers and students they don't know would reach out to members of a unit based in Fort Carson, Colo.
Every item for the members of the 360th Transport Unit Team will have been sent especially for them on behalf of a man they knew well: Sgt. Julio Negron, killed in Iraq on Feb. 28 when his Humvee flipped.
Negron's brother, 42-year-old Sgt. Jose Negron, teaches JROTC at Forest Hill. Looking for a way to do something for Negron as well as honor his brother's memory, his colleagues and students "adopted" Julio Negron's unit.
"It's fantastic to know we still have people who believe in the military and believe in what we do," Jose Negron said. "Even if they don't agree, they believe in us."
Negron, of Margate, said he was overwhelmed when he returned to school after finding out his brother had died.
"It was like being back in the Army. They really rallied around the whole situation," he said. "They've been more than friends, like family."
Some teachers and students approached Negron with words of encouragement and comfort.
"Your brother did a lot and we're going to make sure he stays alive with us," one JROTC student told Negron.
Julio Negron, 28, of Pompano Beach, already had done one tour of duty in Iraq when he volunteered for another and was deployed in December. He and another soldier, Spc. Lizbeth Robles, 31, of Puerto Rico, died in the Humvee crash in Bayji, Iraq. The Negron family originally is from Puerto Rico.
When asked what faculty members could do for the Negron family, Negron urged them instead to do something for the troops his brother left behind.
French teacher Petra Britton, chairwoman of the high school's Sunshine Committee, took charge of the project. Members of the committee take action whenever someone at the school takes ill or there is a death in the family, putting together special gift baskets or organizing events, Britton said.
"In honor of Julio Negron we decided to collect the supplies and send them to his unit on behalf of him and his family," Britton said. "We've gotten so many items, it's unbelievable."
Teachers have donated items as well as money for shipping costs, and some students who learned of the effort also have chipped in by writing letters of appreciation to the troops or contributing items.
"Everybody is concerned; we do care about each other," Britton said. "This is the best way of showing it. His brother lost his life. It's a little thing we can do, but it affects 160 people and that's what's amazing."
Sean Paz, 17, a junior and cadet at Forest Hill, went to Julio Negron's funeral.
"It kind of hit the entire program and the school pretty hard," Paz said.
Julio Negron's death in Iraq prompted sophomore Carilynn Mojena to reach out more to her cousin, a Marine also stationed in Iraq.
"It's gotten me scared," Mojena said. "Now I write more often."
Britton said she hopes the care-package drive inspires others to do more to support troops overseas.
"This spreads the word of goodwill, and I think that's important," Britton said.
A veteran of the Gulf War with 21 years of active duty behind him, Negron can anticipate what the reaction will be among his brother's fellow soldiers when they receive the packages.
"They'll have mixed feelings," he said. "It's going to be painful. It might bring their emotions back out, but on the other hand they'll feel proud that they haven't been forgotten at home."