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MILITARY DEATHS

Army Sgt. David J. Almazan, 27, Van Nuys; Killed by Bomb in Iraq

October 15, 2006|Jeffrey L. Rabin | Times Staff Writer

Army Sgt. David Jimenez Almazan died for his country. But he didn't become an American citizen until after a roadside bomb took his life in Iraq.

A combat medic, Almazan was killed Aug. 27 when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee in Hit, a small city between Baghdad and the Iraq-Syria border. He had been deployed in Iraq for only three weeks.

His wife, Salina Jimenez, said her 27-year-old husband was proud to serve his country. "He loved his job," she said. "He loved working with people. He loved helping people."

Almazan joined the Army in 2002 because "he wanted to make a difference for himself and for other people," his wife said.

The Van Nuys resident reenlisted last spring for another four years with the goal of becoming a physician's assistant.

When he was sent to Iraq, Almazan, an immigrant born in Guadalajara, was working on his application to become an American citizen. "He is now officially one as of the day of his death," his wife said.

Almazan came to the U.S. with his mother and two sisters when he was 11, joining his father, who was already in this country.

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, he was known as David Jimenez, reflecting his father's last name. In Mexico, his mother's maiden name, Almazan, was listed last on his birth certificate, a common practice there.

Jose Martinez, a childhood friend, said they would spend their summers together in the Valley. "We made a lot with a little. We had a lot of fun with the little money we had," he said. "He kept me out of a lot of trouble.... He kept me grounded."

Almazan graduated from Van Nuys High School in 1997. He attended Los Angeles Valley College and worked at Costco in Van Nuys.

Martinez said his friend was "taught from a very young age to be responsible for himself. He had to take care of other people. That got embedded in him.... He loved doing it. He was good at it."

When Almazan joined the Army, his dream was to become a firefighter, Martinez said. But the Army did not need firefighters. Instead, Almazan was placed in a medic training program. His supervisors and friends said he performed superbly in that role.

His medical platoon leader in Iraq, 1st Lt. Joshua Zeldin, had the highest praise for Almazan. "He was truly a top-notch soldier and a leader to everyone he was around," Zeldin wrote in an e-mail.

"In the Army, a medic is referred to as 'Doc' by the platoon he serves with," Zeldin wrote. "With that title comes great responsibility. The soldiers that 'Doc' served with trusted him enough to feel at ease that their lives were in great hands."

Zeldin said he was amazed at how calm and cool Almazan was during practice drills evacuating casualties.

"Sgt. Almazan was one of those people that you just wanted to be around. He never had any problem taking time out of his day to either stop and help a soldier in need or just talk about life in general," Zeldin wrote. "As a leader of a platoon, soldiers such as Sgt. Almazan are the kind you dream of having, the kind of leader that defines the phrase 'lead by example.' "

Sgt. Daniel M. Olivares met Almazan when they were stationed in Hawaii. Later, in Afghanistan, they were roommates at a special forces camp.

"When I contracted malaria, he was the one giving me IVs," Olivares said. "He was very professional, an ideal soldier" dedicated to his job and his unit.

There also was a softer side to Almazan. "We'd play cards, watch movies, cook food together, laugh about ... stuff" and work out together, Olivares said.

Almazan was courting his future wife and would talk to her whenever possible, Olivares said, even if that meant waiting in the snow to use a satellite phone. He also was dedicated to his family and helped to support his parents.

When Almazan returned home after a year in Afghanistan, Martinez said it was "such a relief for me, his family, everyone who knew him.... We were very glad, very thankful that nothing bad happened."

Almazan's relationship with Salina, who was studying to become a teacher, grew more serious and they were married in March aboard a cruise ship in Hawaii.

Almazan had already reenlisted in the Army and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in Friedberg, Germany. His wife followed him there.

A fanatic soccer fan, Almazan was excited to be in Germany, where the World Cup matches were being played. He would wear his Mexico shirt and root for his native country, she said.

Salina Jimenez said her husband never lost his appreciation for his Mexican heritage. He loved salsa dancing, and his favorite food was enchiladas with homemade rice, beans and Tapatio hot sauce.

"He came with nothing to this country and made something out of it," Martinez said. "He always wanted to be the best."

In addition to his wife, Almazan is survived by his father, David Jimenez; his mother, Olivia Jimenez; and two sisters, Mayra and Mariana Jimenez.

Memorial services were held in Iraq, Germany and Southern California.

jeffrey.rabin@latimes.com

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