Saturday, July 15, 2006

Army Sgt. Andres J. Contreras

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Andres J. Contreras, 23, of Huntington Park, Calif.

Sgt Contreras was assigned to 519th Military Police Battalion, 1st Combat Support Brigade, Fort Polk, La.; died July 15, 2006 of injuries sustained when his Humvee encountered an improvised explosive device during combat operations in Baghdad.

Army Sgt. Andres J. Contreras, 23, Huntington Park; Killed in Explosion
Times Staff Writer

Spurred by a strange feeling, Army Sgt. Andres J. Contreras turned to the gunner in his Humvee while on patrol in Baghdad on July 15 and insisted on switching seats.

When his commanding officer ordered him to stay put, Contreras said he couldn't explain why, but he knew that he needed to be sitting in the gunner's seat. His orders were coming from a higher source, he said.

Moments after he made the switch, a roadside bomb exploded and killed Contreras. The other soldier was bruised but alive.

When Contreras' parents heard the story, they weren't surprised to hear that he had died while saving another's life. Their son had always put family first -- blood relations and the military.

As an 11-year-old, Contreras took charge of his five younger brothers every day when his father left their Huntington Park home at 6 p.m. for his job as a security guard.

He changed diapers and helped his mother clean up after dinner. He chased his brothers into the bathroom in order to brush their teeth and tucked them in with bedtime stories.

It was the same in Iraq, where Contreras made a habit of putting the welfare of his fellow soldiers ahead of his own.

Contreras, 23, was assigned to the 519th Military Police Battalion, 1st Combat Support Brigade at Ft. Polk, La. He joined the Army in 2000 as a springboard to a career in law enforcement. The Bell High School graduate wanted to return home to become a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy.

He had an impressive career for a young sergeant, according to his peers. In six years, he had trained three platoons and been deployed to South Korea; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Iraq.

On the field, Contreras was said to be attentive and meticulous with his gear. He hung around the shop after hours as Army mechanics repaired his squad's battered and banged up vehicles.

"He wanted me to teach him what I could so that if small situations came up he could handle them himself. That's not common. A lot of his peers would go home and leave the work to someone else," said Sgt. 1st Class Ray Robidas, who runs the maintenance shop for military police vehicles at Ft. Polk.

Contreras was said to stay long into the night asking questions, often returning before sunrise the next morning to check his squad's equipment again before training missions.

Army Sgt. Andres J. Contreras was killed in actoin on 7/15/06.

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