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Army National Guard 1st Lt. Michael Vega, 41; Dies After Firefight

March 28, 2004|Rone Tempest | Times Staff Writer

When 1st Lt. Michael Vega's convoy came under attack south of Baghdad, military officials reported, the 41-year-old Army National Guard officer returned fire with an automatic weapon mounted on the roof of his unit's Humvee.

Brother Ralph Vega, 51, of Fairfield, Calif., said it was typical of his younger sibling to take the most dangerous assignment himself. "He was the team leader but he was manning the turret on top of the Humvee," he said. "It's because he would not have his men do anything he was not willing to do himself."

Vega, the fourth California National Guard soldier killed in the Iraq conflict, died March 20 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., from severe head injuries suffered nine days earlier when the vehicle turned over on top of him during the firefight with Iraqi insurgents in Diwaniya. Vega was assigned to the 223rd Military Intelligence Company, 223rd Battalion in Sacramento.

A football star at Vallejo High School in Vallejo, Calif., Vega enlisted in the Army after graduation, serving for three years as a helicopter mechanic. After military service, Vega worked for Midway Airlines in Chicago and Southwest Airlines in Oakland. While in Oakland, Vega earned a degree in aeronautics at Cal State Hayward.

Following college graduation, Vega was employed at a computer company in San Jose. Three years ago, he enlisted in the California National Guard, attending officer candidate school in San Luis Obispo to obtain his commission. His last civilian job was in the professional contractors' department at a Home Depot in Stockton.

Girlfriend Marisol Vazquez, who lived with Vega in nearby Lathrop, described him as a "soldier at heart" who used to rise every morning at dawn to run five miles so he could keep in fighting shape.

When he got the call in January to go to Iraq, she said, Vega "believed in the cause and was ready to go."

Services for Vega, who comes from three generations of military service on both sides of the family, will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, followed by a military burial at St. Alphonsus Cemetery, both in Fairfield.

Vega is survived by his father, Raphael; his mother, Maria Nothnagel; his stepfather, John Nothnagel; four brothers; three sisters; and nieces and nephews from California, Colorado, Florida, New York and Guam.

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