Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, the soldier from Harford County who was killed in action last weekend in Afghanistan, will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, the final resting place for thousands of members of the Armed Forces whose service ended with honor.
"We decided that my husband is an American hero, and he will be laid to rest with the soldiers that have served this country," Natasha De Alencar, his widow, said Thursday.
Staff Sgt. De Alencar, 37, was a 1998 graduate of Joppatowne High School, who lived in Edgewood in his teens and 20s. He was a member of the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), which is headquartered at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. His wife and their five children live in Florida.
The soldier was working with Afghan troops as they fought insurgents affiliated with the Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS. He died from wounds sustained during the fighting, according to a Defense Department news release.
Dates, times and locations for viewings and funeral services had not been finalized as of Thursday. The burial at Arlington, which is still being arranged, is expected to take place in the next three to five weeks, according to Maj. Kimbia Rey, a public affairs officer for the 7th Special Forces Group.
More than 400,000 people, including veterans, active-duty military members and veteran and military relatives have been buried at Arlington since the cemetery was established during the Civil War, according to an online brochure.
The cemetery is in Northern Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Go to http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil for more information.
"Once we get the actual dates, that will be out there, so people who loved him can come and pay respects," Natasha De Alencar said of funeral arrangements. "As soon as we've got it, everybody else will have it."
Natasha De Alencar, 38, is a 1996 graduate of Joppatowne High School. She and Mark De Alencar met as high school students.
Word of Staff Sgt. De Alencar's death spread quickly among Joppatowne alumni online.
"We are deeply saddened by the news of his death and we hope that you will join us sending prayers and our most heartfelt condolences to his family in this time of great loss," Jillian Lader, manager of communications for Harford County Public Schools, said in a written statement Tuesday.
Natasha De Alencar said her husband's family moved to Harford County when he was 13 years old. His father is a retired Army veteran with more than 20 years of service, she said.
Natasha's family moved to Edgewood from her native Louisiana when she was a teenager. Her mother wanted to be closer to family in the area, including her brother — Natasha's uncle — Jansen Robinson, who is a member of the Harford County Board of Education and an Army veteran.
She, known as Natasha Brown then, and De Alencar were friends through high school, and they were in several classes together. She said he helped her get through their U.S. history class.
"Mark was very informed and very intelligent when it came to the world," she said. "He helped me out a lot in that class."
She said they reconnected when they were in their early 20s. Natasha De Alencar said they began dating about 15 years ago, and the couple were "soulmates."
"He is my always and forever," De Alencar said. "I'm going to miss him every day."
She described him as the "most humblest, strongest person you will ever meet."
"I will miss him so much because he's gone, and that hurts me to my core," De Alencar said.
She said their children "are doing the best they can — I'm trying to be strong for them; they're trying to be strong for me."
"They're doing what they need to do," she said. "They're taking it day by day, just like me."
De Alencar said "the whole world has been reaching out" to support her family.
"The love is coming from all over, so we're very grateful and thankful so many people care," she said. "That's what gets us through to the next day."