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MILITARY DEATHS

Army Sgt. Diego A. Solorzano Valdovinos, 24, Huntington Park; dies of injuries in Afghan firefight

Colleagues say 'Sgt. Solo' was a good leader with a keen sense of responsibility for the team of riflemen and grenadiers he led in battle. He had been awarded the Army Commendation Medal for earlier actions.

December 05, 2010|By Rich Connell, Los Angeles Times
  • Army Sgt. Diego Solorzano Valdovinos was on his third tour of duty and had planned to re-enlist.
Army Sgt. Diego Solorzano Valdovinos was on his third tour of duty and had…

On his 24th birthday, Army Sgt. Diego A. Solorzano Valdovinos was on patrol near his Afghanistan combat outpost.

Tall and affable, "Sgt. Solo," as he was known, had immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico as a boy. He'd recently visited the family home in Huntington Park and spoken about his plans. He wanted to save money and buy a house. And he was going to reenlist.

His mother was anxious, as she was in 2006 when he announced he was joining the Army. "I think he wanted some excitement in his life," Patricia Valdovinos said of her son's determination to become a soldier. "I couldn't do anything. He was old enough."

He grew into a leader, with a keen sense of responsibility for the members of the infantry team of riflemen and grenadiers he led. In his last conversation with his mother, when she urged him to be careful, he replied, "I'm a sheep dog." He said he had to look after his flock of soldiers. "His brothers, he called them," his mother recalled.

Solorzano Valdovinos was newly into his third war zone tour of duty when he set out on patrol Oct. 27 in the Yahya Khel district southeast of Kabul. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division, based at Ft. Campbell, Ky.

As his platoon moved down through a ravine, small arms fire began raining down from both sides. Solorzano Valdovinos was hit multiple times, including in the major artery of his thigh. He kept firing and directing his team even though they were pinned down, said Maj. Bradd Schultz, citing a summary of the encounter prepared by Solorzano Valdovinos' commanding officer.

"His only thought," the officer wrote, "was about protecting his fellow soldiers from enemy fire."

The young man's blood loss was severe and he was evacuated and underwent surgery in Afghanistan. He was then airlifted to a military hospital in Germany. He died there two days after the firefight, as his mother was en route to be with him.

"I had no idea he had achieved so much," she said recently. Among several decorations her son received was the Army Commendation Medal, awarded for heroism or significant meritorious service.

His family remembers Solorzano Valdovinos as a 6-foot-3 jokester. He liked pranks and getting people to laugh. His younger brother, Jesus Solorzano, recalled Diego bugging their mother, a clothes designer, to outfit a pink Care Bear with an Army uniform and the unit insignias of a general known as "Teddy." During a meeting, Solorzano Valdovinos formally presented the finished product to the general.

"My brother, he was always like that," said Jesus, 21. "He was hard not to like."

Solorzano Valdovinos had hoped to become a SWAT officer after his military service, his brother said. "He's always been a gung-ho type of guy," he said.

Sgt. Jared Allen said he served in the same company with Sgt. Solo for the last 18 months and "mentored him quite a bit" about being a team leader. "He was just a loving, caring, happy guy," Allen said. "But he was also one of the most professional, dedicated [non-commissioned officers] we had in the regiment."

Since childhood, Solorzano Valdovinos had enjoyed wrestling with friends and relatives. As a student he had urged officials at Huntington Park High School to start a wrestling team, Jesus said. One was formed shortly after Diego graduated, his brother noted.

At his memorial service, Army officials spoke of Solorzano Valdovinos' commitment and bravery, and friends and acquaintances recalled his humor, Jesus said. "He stood out. He just had a presence," his brother said.

Solorzano Valdovinos was buried at Riverside National Cemetery.

In addition to his mother and brother Jesus, his survivors include his brothers Omar Solorzano, 20, a member of the Marine Corps, and Joshua Muralles, 12; a sister, Samantha Muralles, 14; and his stepfather, Cesar Muralles.

rich.connell@latimes.com

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