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Army Sgt. Joshua W. Soto, 25, Avenal; killed by bomb in Iraq

He was shot in the ankle on his first deployment, but recovered and returned to finish his tour. He later took a brief break in service but missed Army life and returned for two more stints.

October 04, 2009|Paloma Esquivel

In his abbreviated life, Army Sgt. Joshua W. Soto knew life's hills and valleys better than most.

Soto was barely a teen when his mother and grandfather were killed in a car accident and he was transplanted from Bakersfield to a rural town nearby to live with a family friend. His brother, two years older, moved with him.

"We were just kids trying to figure out why certain events happened in our lives," said Air Force Sgt. Shane Soto. "We just tried to stick together and make the best of it."

After high school, both brothers joined the military -- Shane went to the Air Force and Joshua, who loved the infantry, chose the Army.

"I would have liked for him to go to college, but with the hand we were dealt, that was the best we could do," Shane said. "I was just glad he was doing something he wanted to do."

When Joshua was 13, he was traveling with his mother and grandfather on a two-lane highway on the way to Nevada when a driver in an oncoming car fell asleep behind the wheel.

Joshua's mother and grandfather were killed in the crash.

After the accident, Joshua "became very quiet -- kept a lot of things to himself," Shane said.

The boys, whose father was in and out of jail, went to live with a family friend in rural Hart Flat just outside Bakersfield. The transition was not easy.

Gloria Pearson, the woman who took them in, was kind but strict. She put discipline in their lives, Shane said.

Joshua graduated from Avenal High School in 2002 and joined the military, following in his brother's and grandfather's footsteps.

On his first deployment to Iraq, Joshua was shot in the ankle, but recovered and returned to finish his tour. He later took a brief break in service but told Shane that he missed Army life and returned to Iraq for two more stints.

On June 16, Joshua was killed when a makeshift bomb exploded near his vehicle near Tallil, south of Baghdad. He was 25.

He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division at Ft. Bliss Texas.

Just over a year earlier, he had married a young woman he met online and visited while on leave from the military.

While he was serving his third tour, his wife, Thelma, who lives in Denver, gave birth to their son, Jayden, now 1.

Shane disapproved of the marriage at first, thinking his brother should have taken more time.

Looking back now, he said, he realizes it was a blessing for his brother.

"He had the opportunity to be married and have a kid," Shane said. "He got to experience a little bit of life here before he went."

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paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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