Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Army Capt. Paul W. Pena

Remember Our Heroes

Army Capt. Paul W. Pena, 27, of San Marcos, Texas

Capt. Pena was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.; died Jan. 19, 2010 in Arghandab River Valley, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.

As a member of the Junior ROTC at the San Marcos Baptist Academy, Paul W. Peña was the kind of cadet who worked quietly and humbly behind the scenes, making sure important events like the unit's annual inspection went smoothly.

After he graduated and attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and later during his career as an Army officer, he would return to the school, and his teachers would marvel at how the skinny teenager they knew had bulked up and blossomed into a proud soldier.

The Canadian Press reported that Peña died Tuesday along with Tech Sgt. Adam Ginett, 29, of North Carolina. The pair were on a foot patrol with Afghan soldiers in the Arghandab district, just north of Kandahar city, when they were killed by a roadside bomb.

Five other soldiers were wounded. Peña and Ginett were working with the 2nd Battalion, 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment, and serving under Canadian command.

San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz ordered the San Marcos city flag to be flown at half-staff in his memory; officials said she is asking Gov. Rick Perry's office for an official proclamation to lower the U.S. flag in San Marcos in Pena's memory.

Shelley Henry, the Baptist academy's communications director, said a memorial service in San Marcos is being planned. Peña's family could not be reached.

Peña grew up in San Marcos and attended the academy on RM 12, which today has about 250 students who board there or live in the area and attend daily, Henry said. Peña was a day student.

Henry, who was the National Honor Society adviser while Peña was a student, remembers him as a hardworking and well-liked student dedicated to JROTC. He rose to the rank of cadet major and graduated from the academy fifth in his class in 2000, Henry said.

"He was just a diligent, well-behaved kid," Henry said. "He was one of the bright stars of his class."

Max Smith, a math and physics teacher at the academy, said it came as a surprise to no one when Peña was selected to go to West Point.

"He was the ideal student, from a teacher's perspective," said Smith, a retired Army colonel. "He always came back here and let you know he was OK and that he appreciated all you'd done for him."

Smith said hearing the news about Peña's death was like "a kick in the gut" but said Peña epitomized the idea of serving one's country.

Henry said Peña was on his second deployment and recently completed a tour of duty in Iraq. He visited the school last summer and met with old teachers. She said he was unafraid to go back into combat.

"He was just a leader, and I don't think he was the kind to go in afraid," she said. "He was a brave soldier."

Henry said Capt Pena is survived only by his mother Cecilia Peña, who went to greet her son’s body at Dover Air Force Base. Henry said Peña was an Eagle Scout and a member of the National Honors Society.

Army Capt. Paul W. Pena was killed in action on 1/19/10.

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