Saturday, August 28, 2010

Army Spc. Andrew J. Castro

Remember Our Heroes

Army Spc. Andrew J. Castro, 20, of Westlake Village, Calif.

Spc. Castro was assigned to 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.; died Aug. 28, 2010 in Babur, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. Also killed was Sgt. Patrick K. Durham.

The Westlake High School football community is in mourning after news came out over the weekend that former linebacker A.J. Castro, the son of former booster club President Hector Castro, was killed Saturday in a land mine explosion in Afghanistan. He was 20.

Castro, a 2007 Westlake graduate, was a U.S. Army Specialist attached to the 101st Airborne Division, according to the Ventura County Star.

Two other brothers, Steven and Ryan, played for Westlake. Ryan is also in the military.

The team held its annual intrasquad scrimmage Saturday. Hector Castro, the team's director of football operations, and others were celebrating at a local restaurant in Westlake Village when Castro was informed by military representatives of his son's death. He spent the night at Coach Jim Benkert's house before leaving early Sunday for Pennsylvania, along with his ex-wife, Carmen Roman.

Benkert said he and his wife went home at 10:45 p.m. and he received a call from one of the coaches with Hector Castro. “He was frantic,” Benkert said. “He said a military chaplain and another soldier came into Chili’s. They were with Hector’s oldest son, Steven. My wife and I dropped everything to go over to Chili’s to be with him."

“There wasn’t a lot of sleeping happening last night,” Benkert said. “It was a very, very, very, very sad thing to be around.”

This is the second ex-Westlake football player killed in Afghanistan in the last year. Frankie Toner, 26, a former homecoming king who was a Navy lieutenant, died in Afghanistan last year.

“It brings the war real close to home,” Benkert said. “We’re thankful for their efforts but something like this is a travesty.”

Westlake has been sending ex-football players off to the military for years. Three of the last four team MVPs are enrolled at West Point, the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy, respectively.

U.S. Army Spc. Andrew Jordan “A.J.” Castro, 20, died Saturday morning along with others in a land mine explosion, said Castro’s father, Hector Castro. A.J. Castro had been in Afghanistan less than a month, his father said.

“I did everything I could to convince him not to join, but like his brother, he wanted to do it,” Hector Castro said in a phone interview from Philadelphia.

Hector Castro said the one thing that gave him solace was a Facebook message he received from his son about five days ago. “He said, ‘Dad, I love what I’m doing,’” Hector Castro said. “I can’t ask for anything more than that.”

A total of seven U.S. troops died in weekend attacks in Afghanistan’s embattled southern and eastern regions. The latest deaths bring to 42 the number of American forces who have died this month in Afghanistan after July’s high of 66.

Hector Castro, 49, of Winnetka, flew to Pennsylvania on Sunday morning along with his ex-wife, Carmen Roman, 49, of Westlake Village, and one of A.J.’s brothers, Sgt. Ryan Castro, 25. Ryan Castro is a U.S. Army soldier stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

A.J. Castro was the youngest of three brothers. The oldest, Steven Castro, 27, lives in Oak Park. Steven Castro stayed behind to take care of his mother’s dogs and the house. Steven said he’s holding it together as much as he can. “Every once in a while I’ll see a picture around the house and I’ll lose it,” he said Sunday.

A.J. Castro’s remains were scheduled to arrive by military transport at a Philadelphia airport at 2 a.m. today. His remains will then be flown to Pierce Brothers mortuary in Westlake Village. The family is planning a memorial service at St. Jude’s Catholic Church in Westlake Village, but the date has not yet been determined.

Ryan Castro, who just returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq, said that he’s lost buddies as a soldier. “It’s completely different when it’s your brother,” he said. “When it happens, it’s unbelievable. It hurts.”

Carmen Roman is doing “as well as can be expected,” Hector Castro said, and Ryan Castro said he’s trying to be strong for his parents.

“It’s just a shock to everybody,” said Westlake High School head football coach Jim Benkert, who coached all three of the Castro boys in the football program.

Hector Castro has been a part of the Westlake High School football program for 17 years and is still athletic director for the youth football league, the Braves.

Benkert remembers A.J. Castro as someone who always did the right thing. He was the first to sign onto a voluntary drug program that left other students hesitant.

“We had a motto: ‘Stand up for what is right even if you’re standing alone,’” Benkert said. “He was the epitome of that motto.”

Hector Castro remembers him as the muscled, nearly 6-foot tall son who, at 20, still liked to sit on the bed with his dad on Saturday morning while the two ate cereal and watched cartoons. “He always called me ‘Daddy,’” Hector said. “Right up until the day he died, he called me ‘Daddy.’”

Spc. Andrew J. Castro, 20, of Westlake Village, CA, was a human intelligence collector assigned to Company B, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. He entered the Army in June 2008 and arrived at Fort Campbell in February 2009. His awards and decorations include: Meritorious Unit Citation; National Defense Service Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Army Service Ribbon and Weapons Qualification: M249 machine gun (expert).

Army Spc. Andrew J. Castro was killed in action on 8/28/10.

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