To Spc. Jashua Woods, Sgt. Carlos Camacho-Rivera will always be the roommate he had to hide homemade cookies from, the friend who never failed to make him laugh and the soldier he always wanted to be more like.
"If he could find a way to pull a joke on someone, he would," said Woods, who first became friends with Camacho-Rivera four years ago, when he moved to Virginia Beach's Fort Story. "And if my mom sent me homemade cookies, he was the first one on my bunk."
"But he was also the first to help you if you needed something," Woods said with red eyes and shaky hands. "Which is why this is kind of hard to cope with. Everyone in the unit is taking this pretty hard."
Camacho-Rivera died Friday in a military hospital in Baghdad, Iraq, from wounds that he suffered in a rocket attack in Fallujah.
Hundreds of soldiers, family members, friends and local politicians attended a memorial service for him Wednesday at Fort Story's First Landing Chapel. A service was also conducted Wednesday in Taji, Iraq, the area where Camacho-Rivera was based.
The 24-year-old cargo handler turned truck driver is survived by a wife, Tania, and 3-year-old son, Carlos Jr., who live in Puerto Rico. Camacho-Rivera is being buried near his family Saturday.
Camacho-Rivera was expected to return home from his yearlong deployment with the 368th Transportation Company, 11th Transportation Battalion, 7th Transportation Group, in four months.
He was Fort Story's first casualty of the war and the group's second. In August, Spc. Raymond Faulstich Jr. -- a truck driver with the Fort Eustis-based 89th Transportation Company -- died when his convoy was attacked in Najaf, Iraq.
Capt. Erik Hilberg, who's in Virginia now on rest and recuperation leave, said at Wednesday's service that it's comforting to know Camacho-Rivera died doing what he loved to do -- "being with soldiers, helping other soldiers."
Camacho-Rivera was in Fallujah helping deliver supplies to troops on the frontlines of the battle for the city.
More than 10,000 U.S. troops began surrounding Fallujah weeks ago, in preparation for an invasion of the city. That fight started Monday, with the goal to root out insurgents operating in the city of more than 300,000.
Friday, before the attack began, Marines who set up checkpoints along important routes leading into the city fired on a civilian vehicle that refused to stop, The Associated Press reported. Insurgents fought back with a rocket attack that killed Camacho-Rivera and wounded five others. No other soldier in Camacho-Rivera's unit was seriously injured, a Fort Story spokeswoman said.
"I personally went on 20 convoys with Sgt. Camacho," Hilberg said. Camacho-Rivera spent most of his time in Iraq in the cab of a heavy equipment transporter -- a 48-wheeled truck designed to haul tanks.
Camacho-Rivera drove all over Iraq, Hilberg said -- back and forth to Kuwait, as far north as Mosul, and close to the Syrian and Iranian borders.
During one convoy, Hilberg said, Camacho-Rivera was flagged down by another convoy stopped on the side of the road. A Humvee had been run over by a civilian fuel tanker. Two soldiers were trapped inside, with the huge truck still teetering on the Humvee. Most soldiers on the scene were unsure of what to do -- afraid that whatever they did would cause the soldiers to be crushed.
Camacho-Rivera stepped up, Hilberg said, and used a forklift and a wrecker truck that he was hauling with his convoy to free the trapped soldiers.
"That's not something you train for," Hilberg said. "But Sgt. Camacho made it look easy."
Before Camacho-Rivera died, he wrote two letters -- one to his wife and one to his friends in the unit. The recipients were under strict orders to open them only should something happen.
In one, Hilberg said, Camacho-Rivera assured his fellow soldiers that they'd make it through the war. "He knew we'd be fine," Hilberg said. "He knew he would now be someone's guardian angel."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun