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Army Spc. Michael J. Idanan, 21, Chula Vista; Killed by a Roadside Bomb

November 27, 2005|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

When he was a teenager, Michael J. Idanan flirted with trouble, and sometimes fell into it. He hung out with a San Francisco-area gang and got expelled from high school for bringing a pair of nunchucks to class in his backpack.

He eventually joined the Army, following the lead of an older cousin. Both young men were trying to turn their lives around.

The cousin, Brian Riley, left the military after a three-year stint and moved to Oklahoma, where he is raising a family and working for a beer company.

Idanan, 21, of Chula Vista, Calif., reenlisted for a second tour. He was killed Nov. 19 when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee in Bayji, Iraq, south of Mosul.

Now all his older cousin can think about is joining up again.

"I don't know, for some reason, I feel like getting back in," Riley said in a phone interview. "I just feel like I could do something. I know I shouldn't be feeling that way. I mean, my dad and my mom talked to me and said, 'Look, Michael's purpose in life has been fulfilled.' "

Idanan was born in the Philippines, but his parents' marriage fell apart when he was a baby, and his mother, Nenita Manalese, moved to California with him, looking for a fresh start.

They settled in Daly City, near San Francisco, in a two-room house crowded with members of a large extended family that eventually included his mother's second husband and a half-brother, Jesse.

But Idanan was a tough kid to stay on top of. When he was expelled from school, the family decided it would be best for him to move in with his uncle, Nelson Riley, near San Diego.

Riley's son Brian also had been a difficult teenager, and Riley figured the best thing for the two boys was to send them to a federal Job Corps training camp in Utah. The boys shared a dorm and got their GEDs. But when they came home, they seemed just as aimless as ever. They were so messy that Riley made them live in the garage.

"I called it uncle's boot camp," said Riley, a Navy veteran. "I told them, 'If you guys don't get it together -- go to college or go in the military -- this will be better than the street corner you'll be living on.' "

Brian Riley enlisted first. A few months later, Idanan followed the cousin he had always looked up to -- the one he called "kuya," Tagalog for "older brother."

Family members agree that the military changed Idanan in positive ways. His cousin noticed a more mature vocabulary, and a new depth in his voice.

Nelson Riley said Idanan was thinking about going to college when he got out.

When Idanan came back to California, he would try to persuade his old friends to get serious about their lives. And when he went back to his uncle's house, he didn't have to sleep in the garage anymore. Riley was impressed that he had come home pinned with a Meritorious Service Medal with valor.

"He got a room with a bed," Nelson Riley said. "He was a hero when he came back."

The last time Brian Riley saw his cousin was by chance. The two men were assigned to separate divisions, but on the eve of war in 2003, both were at Camp Victory, Kuwait, waiting to go into Iraq. Riley was waiting for the word when he heard a voice from a nearby convoy yelling "Kuya! Kuya!"

At the time of his death, Idanan was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, Ky.

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