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Kofa grad soldier feted by White House
A year and a half after a suicide bombing almost killed him, Army Staff Sgt. Gabriel Garcia was invited to meet President Barack Obama during this year's Independence Day barbecue at the White House.
Garcia, a 2001 Kofa High School graduate, was greeted by the president and later treated to lunch on the White House lawn.
“I was selected out of my company of wounded warriors at Walter Reed (Army Medical Center in Maryland) to go to the White House for this dinner,” Garcia told the Yuma Sun during a phone interview. “That kind of blind-sided me because I wasn't expecting that.”
President Obama personally recognized Garcia for his service and his sacrifice during a formal ceremony: “We salute the United States Army ... including a soldier who served on more than 150 combat missions in Afghanistan, and after losing most of his arm in an (improvised explosive device) attack, recently completed a grueling 26-mile run, inspiring all who know him, and all of us - that's Staff Sgt. Gabriel Garcia.”
Garcia's right arm was amputated last year after a blast while on duty in Afghanistan. He is living in Maryland while undergoing physical therapy at Walter Reed.
His parents, Arturo and Barbara Garcia, live in the Yuma area.
“Sunday (July 4) we ended up going to the White House around 4 o'clock in the afternoon and it was pretty much like a barbecue out on the lawn,” Garcia said.
“They had a concert with the band The Killers ... (and) Cedric the Entertainer was there and did stand-up. I got to meet all of them and that was pretty cool. It was a good time.”
Later, Garcia was given a tour of the White House and even stopped for a chat with the president in the Green Room.
“He was asking a lot of questions - asking if everything was going right and if the food was good, and gave me one of his presidential coins, which is really cool. Not many people get them,” Garcia said, adding he was impressed with Obama.
“He was really cool. It was pretty amazing when I walked in the room because they had me up front all the time … It is pretty crazy when you walk into a room and the president and the first lady are there. They came up and talked to me, and Michelle gave me a hug.”
Garcia's wife, Christina, and his son, Cain, were also invited to the barbecue and were greeted by the Obamas.
Garcia had missed a previous meeting with Obama due to his injury.
“President Obama came to Walter Reed and I think I had just come out of a surgery, so I didn't get to meet him. He had come through and pinned some guys with their Purple Hearts. I was kind of upset ... because I had just missed him and it was cool to be finally able to meet him.”
Garcia's road to the White House began when he was on his third tour of combat duty with the Army. He had served in Iraq twice with the 1st Armored Division and the 101st Airborne Division before being transferred to the 1st Infantry Division in Afghanistan.
“On Jan. 8, 2009, my platoon and I, about 30 of us, were doing a dismounted foot patrol through a market area on the Helmand Province border.
“It is a really bad area that we were in. The market area was probably only about 100 yards outside of our actual base, and we were going through just showing our presence.”
Garcia had already been in the country for about six months and had seen plenty of action.
“We were doing a foot patrol and a suicide bomber hit us. He rigged up a whole shop that he had with explosives and had a motorcycle rigged with explosives, as well as a suicide vest on. As I was walking, he was to my right. About 15 feet away from me, he set himself off. He's gone, there wasn't much left of him.”
Garcia was wearing protective gear during the blast.
“It slowed done a lot of the shrapnel that would have gone through my whole body. (As it was) I had a piece that went through the new side plates that they had given us. I had shrapnel that went through the side of my body that ripped my (right) arm off. It was slowed enough by the plates to get lodged into only one of my lungs.
“The plates made our vests a whole lot heavier and there were some guys who didn't want to wear them, but I knew one day it would probably do some good.”
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.