Friday, April 23, 2010

Army Sgt. Jason A. Santora

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Jason A. Santora, 25, of Farmingville, N.Y.

Sgt. Santora was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Benning, Ga.; died April 23, 2010 in Logar province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained while conducting combat operations. Also killed was Sgt. Ronald A. Kubik.

A Sachem alum and Farmingville native was killed Friday in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan.

U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. Jason Anthony Santora, 25, a member of the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment based in Fort Benning, Ga., died in Logar province.

In a statement Friday, NATO said five insurgents were killed in a battle and that the casualties came during a joint military operation with Afghan forces at a compound in the Puli Alam district.

Santora, who graduated from Sachem in 2003 and enlisted in March 2006, was on his fourth deployment, with one previously in Afghanistan and two in Iraq. For more than three years, he was a mortar platoon ammunition bearer and a rifle team leader. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Meritorious Service Medal. His remains arrived at Dover Air Force Base, Del. on Sunday.

"Sergeant Kubik and Sergeant Santora were warriors, true patriots and absolute heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation," said Col. Michael E. Kurilla, commander, 75th Ranger Regiment, in a Special Operations Command (SOCOM) release. "They were the epitome of the Ranger Fire Team Leader – fearless, leading from the front, and always concerned for their men."

His awards and decorations include the Ranger Tab, Combat Infantryman's Badge, and Parachutist Badge. He has also been awarded the Army Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Army Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with combat star, Iraq Campaign Medal with two combat stars, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon, according to his biography on the SOCOM website.

"Sergerants Kubik and Santora were Ranger leaders of the highest caliber and brothers-in-arms who died fighting together," said Col. Dan Walrath, commander of 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. "Their actions exemplify the fighting spirit of the Army Rangers and we will be eternally grateful for the examples they gave us in life."

Santora graduated from Sachem North High School in 2003. Family members said he had good grades and liked to play football and soccer.

His father, Gary Santora, 52, of Medford, said he was watching the news on TV early Friday when he saw a ticker item on the deaths of two troops and five militants in Afghanistan. "I didn't think twice of it," he said. "As long as I don't have any knocks at the door, I know he's OK. And that morning, I got that knock.

"They start off with, 'We regret to inform you,' " he said of the visit by the uniformed military. "Once they said that, I knew that he wasn't just hurt. They don't come to the door if your son's hurt."

Santora's family said he was so committed to his comrades in arms that he declined to return to Long Island this month after his grandmother died.

"He said, 'If I leave now, it's going to be difficult for my team, and I can't leave them,' " his mother, Theresa Santora, 49, of Massapequa Park, said. "I knew he made up his mind to be an Army Ranger. I wasn't happy about it. If I could've talked him out of it, I would have, but he loved what he did."

In the past year, Logar Province, which has access routes to Kabul, has seen an uptick in insurgent activity as the enemy seeks to gain a foothold in and around the capital, according to published reports.

Sunday, NATO-led forces captured a Taliban subcommander and killed several insurgents in Logar, Western military officials said. Hours later, hundreds of people blocked a main road in the province and protested what they said were civilian deaths in NATO operations, according to The Associated Press.

"Things really need to change in this world," Santora's mother said. "It's really sad that our young men have to go over there and be killed and come home in a casket. It's my baby."

He was a wonderful boy," said his grandmother Marie Santora. "He was a great kid, never got in trouble."

"His sister is a mess. They were very, very close," his grandmother said. Jason Santora and his little sister Gina had always been tight. When Gina turned 16 and their parents couldn't throw her a party due to personal problems, Jason, then 20, stepped up to plan the event.

With his modest wages from a job with a pool company, he sprung for the cost of her birthday bash.

"I danced with my brother," Gina Santora, 21, of Medford, said Sunday, just hours after seeing his flag-draped coffin reach Dover Air Force Base. "I always said that every girl should have a big brother like him."

Added Sachem Superintendent James Nolan, "I truly cannot think of anything worse than the tragic loss of a young life. It's just not supposed to be that way. I know that I can speak for the entire Sachem family when I say that Jason and his family are certainly in our thoughts and prayers. Jason is a true hero because he gave his life to help make the lives of others better."

Army Sgt. Jason A. Santora was killed in action on 4/23/10.

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