- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

DALLAS (AP) — In his calls and notes from Iraq, Army Pfc. Kristian Menchaca told relatives about his dangerous assignment at military checkpoints.

Now his family is hoping for the 23-year-old Houston soldier’s safe return after learning that he was one of two servicemen missing in Iraq after an insurgent attack.

An umbrella group that includes al Qaeda in Iraq asserted in a statement yesterday that it had kidnapped the two U.S. soldiers.

The U.S. military later confirmed that Pfc. Menchaca and Army Pfc. Thomas Lowell Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore., were kidnapped during the attack Friday on their checkpoint south of Baghdad.

The Defense Department said Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., was killed in the attack. All three soldiers were assigned to Fort Campbell, Ky.

“I was 95 percent sure he was one of them,” Pfc. Menchaca’s brother, Julio Cesar Vasquez, of Houston, said late Sunday. “I already had an idea because he was at a checkpoint.”

The military said soldiers not far from the checkpoint heard small-arms fire and explosions, and a quick-reaction force reached the scene within 15 minutes. The force found one soldier dead but no signs of the other two. A farmer told the AP that two soldiers had been captured by seven masked gunmen.

An Oregon National Guard spokeswoman said she had a brief conversation with Pfc. Tucker’s parents and they said he joined the military “to do something positive for the country.”

Former Madras Mayor Rick Allen, whom Pfc. Tucker worked for at a gas station while he was a student at Madras High School, described the soldier as strong, street-smart and mechanically inclined.

“It’s just bizarre; it takes your breath away. Here’s this kid who used to come and pump gas at your place and now he is clear across the world — held,” Mr. Allen said. “And there’s nothing anyone can do, except hope these people have compassion and let him go.”

Pfc. Menchaca’s wife, 18-year-old Christina Menchaca, of Big Spring, Texas, said the military told her Saturday they were using “every means possible to find him,” she said.

“We’re basically just watching the news because no one else knows anything about it; no one has heard anything about it,” she said.

Mrs. Menchaca said she married the soldier in September and he deployed in October.

“He enjoys being in the military,” Mrs. Menchaca said of her husband, from whom she received an e-mail last week. “That’s basically what he wants to do.”

Pfc. Menchaca’s mother, Maria Vasquez of Brownsville, Texas, said she last heard from her son a few weeks ago. Along with asking for some treats from home, like Cheetos and cleaning wipes, the soldier told his mother that he was working at a checkpoint.

“I’m a little bit nervous, and I cannot sleep,” she said. “I worry about him.”

Julio Cesar Vasquez said his brother joined the military last year and was sent to Iraq within months.

“He wanted to go infantry,” he said. “We were telling him the dangers that infantrymen had, but that’s what he wanted to do.”

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