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Soldier is among 4 troops killed in an explosion in Afghanistan

January 23, 2011|Jason Song

When Raymond C. Alcaraz Jr.'s grandmother died in July 2009, the Army sergeant flew home from Germany to be a pallbearer at her funeral.

Even though he had sprained his left foot during a training exercise and had to use crutches, Alcaraz still helped carry Lupe Chavez-Alcaraz's casket during the ceremony.

"There was no way you could stop him," said his father, Raymond Alcaraz Sr. of Fontana.

The 20-year-old Redlands soldier was among four troops killed Aug. 31 when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle in central Afghanistan's Logar province, south of Kabul. All were assigned to the 173rd Brigade Support Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Bamberg, Germany.

Alcaraz had been due to return home on leave in October, family members said.

They said he showed a strong independent streak as a young boy, waving off his parents when they tried to accompany him to class.

"No, Mom, I can walk to school myself," he told his mother, Alma Murphy of Redlands, in the second grade. "He always wanted to see if he could do something on his own first," she said.

His first love was baseball, and he dreamed of being a professional baseball player. He made the all-stars while playing Little League, but by the time he reached high school, he realized that he needed to think of alternatives.

"He was always smaller for his age," said his stepfather, Paul Murphy.

Alcaraz thought about becoming a firefighter and often visited stations and made appointments to accompany firefighters on calls. He once was walking to a station for a ride-along when the engine began to pull out for a call.

"He came running across the street and jumped on the call. He just didn't want to miss anything," said James Winter, a fire engineer for the city of Redlands.

Alcaraz was especially interested in becoming a medic. During high school, he and several friends passed a car accident on the freeway and Alcaraz insisted that they stop to see if they could help. "He had a heart that wanted to help others," his mother said.

Alcaraz's older brother, Lucas, joined the Army in 1996 and Alcaraz decided to follow suit. "He always looked up to his older brother," his mother said.

Before he graduated from Redlands High School in 2007, Alcaraz began meeting with Army recruiters.

"One day he told me: 'Mom, I need you to come with me to sign some papers,' " his mother said.

Alcaraz was only 17 at the time and still needed parental permission.

Alcaraz soon left for boot camp at Ft. Benning, Ga. He was on his second tour in Afghanistan when he was killed. He had survived several bomb attacks, including one in which he suffered a concussion, but rarely spoke about the war, according to his family and fellow soldiers.

He was known for his sense of humor, according to his captain, Erik Stephen Johnson.

When Alcaraz came home to visit, his family noticed a change in him. He had begun to pay more attention to his finances and talked about buying a home when he was finished with his military service.

"He matured and grew so much as a person," his mother said. "We were so proud of him."

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