Tuesday, July 10, 2012

R.I.P. - Spc. Jonathan Batista

DOD Identifies Army Casualty

            The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

            Spc. Jonathan Batista, 22, of Kinnelon, N.J., died July 8, in Zharay, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire.  He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.

            For more information the media may contact the 82nd Airborne Division public affairs office at 910-432-0661 or 910-813-3891.

from nj.com:

Spc. Jonathan Batista insisted his friends called him "Mr. Clutch."

The nickname stemmed from a baseball game he and his friends were playing when Batista was 13. The opposing pitcher had walked the preceding batter to face him. But he promptly blasted a triple, and for the next decade insisted he be called "Mr. Clutch."

Seven of his closest friends laughed at that memory Monday night as they sat around a booth at Paisano’s, a restaurant in Rutherford, remembering their pal who was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday.

He was the second New Jersey soldier to die in Afghanistan within the last week, the other casualty being Staff Sgt. Raul Guerra of Union City.

Batista’s friends said they preferred other nicknames: "Thighs" because of his massive thighs. "Fantista" because of the large quantities of Fanta he consumed, so much so that he had a special section of the refrigerator devoted to the soft drink at his home and at the home of his friend, David Jones.

His friends sat with bottles of wine and glasses of beer remembering these and other memories of their 22-year old friend.

The restaurant seemed appropriate. Batista had worked there in high school and declared it to be his favorite. He often ate there when returning from basic training.

The mood was light. His friends chose to laugh at memories they shared, not mourn what they lost.

Batista was killed in Zharay, a part of Kandahar province, according to the Department of Defense, when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire.

Batista was on his first tour, working as a mine detector. He enlisted, his friends said, as a way to improve his life, to get out of Rutherford and see the world.

"He wanted more than what Rutherford had to offer," said Alfredo Lastra.

Batista was an infantryman with A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

"Jon was a devoted son, a caring brother, a paratrooper dedicated to the safety and security of his infantry team," said battalion commander Lt. Col. Philip Raymond in a statement. Raymond added Batista was always ready to sacrifice his life for the good of platoon.

"Their safety was his priority," he said. "His courage bolstered theirs and endeared him to his platoon."

He had been awarded several medals, including the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Army Achievement Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.

Batista, who was set to return to the United States in August, never seemed to mind the stress of the campaign, his friends said. Before his deployment, he assured those worried about him it would be no big deal. "It was going to be great, like a stroll in the park," Jamie Parnofiello, remembers Batista saying.

At Rutherford High School, he may not have been the best student, his friends said, but his grades belied his intelligence. He was sharp and kind. When he worked at Paisano’s, he knew everyone’s name and was friendly and helpful to all — from the dishwashers to the manager.

Born in the Dominican Republic, he lived in Rutherford most of his life until recently when his mother remarried and moved to Smoke Rise, a gated community in Kinnelon. Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.

Parnofiello said he spoke to Batista via Facebook recently, and he was completely relaxed even though he was in a combat zone.

“I was in the middle of basketball camp and I got the call and I just had to cry,” Parnofiello said. “He had meant so much to everyone. The hardest part is that you don’t get to say bye.”
Lastra said he never gave anyone cause for concern.

"You never worried about it," Lastra said, "because he was never worried about himself."

Batista and Guerra are at least the 45th and 46th service member with ties to New Jersey to die in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001. In addition, 102 service members from New Jersey have died in Iraq since 2003.

Guerra was a lifer — ready to serve his entire career in the military.

Guerra was on his fifth tour of duty. when he died on a base in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, said Joint Base Lewis McChord in a statement today.

His death was non-combat related, said Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield, and remains under investigation.

"(Guerra) seemed to be a pretty good guy, he was well liked," said Dangerfield today, noting he’d recently spoken with a soldier who served with the 37-year-old husband and father of one. "He was a hard worker."

"When you get to the rank of staff sergeant that means you’ve committed yourself to service, and that’s pretty admirable," Dangerfield said. "That’s noble."

Guerra was assigned to the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion, which is part of the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. This was his fourth tour in Afghanistan. He also served a 14-month tour in Iraq.

His last role was as a "human intelligence collector," Dangerfield said, meaning he would help his unit sort through data and turn it into "actionable intelligence."

"He was a warrior and he will be missed," Dangerfield said, referring to Guerra’s five war deployments. "One loss is too many — the best thing we can do now is just move forward and honor his service."

Star-Ledger staff writers Dan Goldberg and Ben Horowitz contributed to this report.
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