Hernando Rios – Private First Class, United States Army

NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense
No. 834-05
August 12, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

They died on August 8, 2005, in Baghdad, Iraq from injuries sustained on August 7, 2005, when their HMMWV was struck by two improvised explosive devices and they received small arms fire.  The soldiers were assigned to the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, 256th Brigade Combat Team, New York, New York.

Killed were:
Specialist Anthony N. Kalladeen, 26, of Purchase, New York
Private First Class Hernando Rios, 29, of Queens, New York

For further information related to this release, contact Army Public Affairs at (703) 692-2000.

Monday, August 15 2005:

A Queens National Guardsman who was serving the last weeks of his regiment's yearlong tour in Iraq was among the latest U.S. soldiers to be killed by insurgents.

Private First Class Hernando Rios, 29, who was described by family and friends as a happy-go-lucky father of three young daughters, was killed Monday while on patrol in Baghdad. He was a member of “The Fighting 69th,” a Manhattan-based Army National Guard regiment that has lost 10 soldiers in the Iraq war.

“He was very alive, even when he was a child,” said his sister Carmen Depompeis, 40, of Peekskill. When she found out he had died, she said, “It was like someone punched me in the stomach.”

Depompeis said she tried to talk Rios out of joining the Army. “I really didn't want him to go. I said, ‘You should stay here, for the girls.' He said it would be worth it to die for his country.”

Rios, who lived with his mother, Marlene, wife, Liliana, and two of his daughters in Woodside, spoke with and e-mailed family regularly. He sent home photographs of Baghdad cityscapes and of his comrades at arms swimming at the pool, trying to escape 110-degree heat.

“I was anxious for him to come back,” Depompeis said. “He said he was coming soon but would have to patrol until his last day.”

That last day came one month too soon.

While patrolling the streets of Baghdad last week, Rios' Humvee was hit by two bombs and a flurry of gunfire, according to the Department of Defense. Rios and Specialist Anthony N. Kalladeen, 26, of Purchase, were killed. Three men were wounded.

“He was always a jokester,” said Jeffrey Santiago, 26, who met Rios two decades ago while growing up in the same Woodside apartment building. “He was very well known in the neighborhood. If he saw someone getting picked on, he would stand up for him.”

After neighbors learned of Rios' death, they streamed into the apartment building to share their grief and visit the makeshift memorial of photos erected at the entrance, Santiago said.

“It's kind of hard to swallow,” he said. “I didn't want to believe it. But now I have to accept it,” he said, his voice faltering.

Friends and neighbors said that they hope to pay tribute to Rios by naming the street where he lived in his honor.

“We're really trying to make it happen,” said Chris Voity, who grew up one floor away from Rios on 49th Street. “He deserves it.”

Family members plan to hold Rios' funeral in Woodside early this week.

Among those attending will be Rios' younger half-brother, Raymond Hermosen, a police officer from Virginia. Hermosen recently joined the Army and was scheduled to begin training. Instead, he will be returning to Queens to serve as a pallbearer.

“He wants to carry his brother,” Depompeis said. “It's so hard. We're still waiting for the body. We just want him to rest in peace.”

August 18, 2005


“The people of New York are deeply saddened by the loss of Specialist Anthony N. Kalladeen and Private First Class Hernando Rios, both members of the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, ‘the Fighting 69th, New York Army National Guard, who were recently killed in action while serving in Iraq.

“Like so many brave citizen-Soldiers, Specialist Kalladeen and Private Rios, bravely answered the call to duty in Iraq, risking their lives to spread the cause of freedom and to protect us from threats of terror.

“On behalf of all New Yorkers, we extend our deepest sympathy to the families of Specialist Kalladeen and Private First Class Rios during this difficult time.”

21 August 2005:

Wrapped in the arms of her mother, 8-year-old Marlene Rios whimpered softly yesterday as the flag-draped coffin carrying her father, Private First Class Hernando Rios, arrived at his funeral.

Just a few weeks ago, Marlene had been looking forward to hugging her father again. The 29-year-old Queens National Guardsman was nearing the end of his regiment's year-long tour in Iraq when he was killed August 8, 2005.

“Your memory will live in our hearts and minds because of who you were,” Rios' longtime friend Jose Peña, 33, said during the funeral, speaking directly to his pal.

Peña described his slain friend as a “prankster, the loyal friend and loving father.”

Rios, described by friends and family as a father of three “who would do anything for anybody,” was killed while on patrol when his vehicle hit two roadside bombs in Baghdad.

He was a member of The Fighting 69th, a Manhattan-based regiment that has lost 10 soldiers in Iraq.

“He was always looking out for people, always trying to defend the people that can't defend themselves,” said Rios' brother Pfc. Ramon Germosen.

Along with Marlene, Rios left behind two other daughters, 10-month-old Alyssa and 5-month-old Gabriela, who have different mothers.

After the funeral service, Washington Hago, 29, a Golden Gloves-winning boxer, lingered outside the church and remembered his childhood friend.

“He believed in me like a brother,” Hago said.

19 August 2005:

Daily News reporter Nancy Dillon and photographer Debbie Egan-Chin are in Iraq with New York's famed Fighting 69th.


As its armored Humvees rumbled west along Route Mets in northern Baghdad, the ill-fated convoy sensed something was wrong.

“I remember we all mentioned there were no Iraqi police out. We were like, ‘Oh man, that's never a good sign,'” said Daniel Barr, 33, a sergeant with New York's Fighting 69th.

“It was still an hour and a half before curfew. It seemed like the neighborhood knew something.”

The soldiers were in the same meat market a week earlier, buying watermelon from a local vendor. But now it was 10:45 p.m., and the darkness was compounded by the start of a nasty sandstorm that would later shut down Baghdad.

Nobody saw the powerful platter charge hidden in a bag and tucked beside a vending stall.

In a horrifying flash, the bomb exploded just 16 feet from the convoy's lead Humvee. Molten chunks of steel and copper ripped through the vehicle's turret and right rear passenger door.

The driver, Specialist Brian Lopez of Queens, took a hail of shrapnel in his neck and arm and struggled to control the burning vehicle as it tore through several meat stands and slammed into a building at 30 mph.

The Brooklyn-born gunner, Sergeant Anthony Kalladeen, 26, and backseat rider Private First Class Hernando Rios, 29, of Woodside, Queens, died instantly.

It was August 7, 2005, a month before the group was scheduled to return home from a year-long tour.

“I remember Kalladeen and Rios, there wasn't a sound out of them,” recalled Barr, who was sitting in the front passenger seat and temporarily knocked unconscious by the blast. “Lopez was wandering around the vehicle in pain. I know I was in pain. … The next thing I know I'm running down the road trying to load Kalladeen into a vehicle, but the door wouldn't close.”

“It was rough,” he said with vacant eyes trained on the dusty earth. “I know I knew they were gone.”

And still, the devastating blast was only the beginning.

A 30-minute firefight erupted moments later, with insurgency fire raining down from a position four stories up in a building.

Sergeant Richard Smoot of upstate Watertown driving behind, raced through the smoke and wreckage to provide up-front security. Sergeant Wing Har of Jamaica, Queens, who'd been riding in the third Humvee of the four-vehicle convoy, also joined the fight, as medic Bryan Johnson tried in vain to get Kalladeen's heart pumping again.

“I called for a body bag for Kalladeen but then I thought I felt a pulse so I tried CPR and rescue breathing. But it didn't work. It didn't work. He was gone,” Johnson, 27, said with dismay.

As an evacuation helicopter tried but failed to land because of the sandstorm, Johnson set to work on the other wounded. He fit Lopez with an IV and oxygen mask, and then inadvertently stuck his own index finger with a morphine shot in the chaos.

Meanwhile up front, Har felt a sharp, burning sensation on his back and later learned he had been hit with gunfire and probably would have died if not for the ceramic rifle plate in his bullet-proof vest.

Sergeant Smoot estimates he went through eight magazines of 30 rounds each fending off the attack.

As they sat under a giant desert oak tree on Camp Stryker on Wednesday, six members of the tragic convoy lit up with smiles and inside jokes when they talked about the fallen soldiers who had become their brothers.

They said Kalladeen, who was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Yonkers, was a talented wrestler, always the first to report for patrols and quick to spend his own money on photographs and other gifts for Iraqi families.

They remembered their Queens buddy Rios as an avid reader and father of three who loved to eat and once got himself stuck trying on the life preserver at Camp Liberty's pool.

Johnson reflected on their loss.

“I'm hurt, upset, mad,” he said. “It's a bad feeling to make it [11 months] and then take losses like this. It's frustrating.”

Since it arrived in Iraq last October, New York's Fighting 69th has lost 19 men under its command.

The area in northwestern Baghdad where Kalladeen and Rios were killed recently has seen an uptick in violence.

“In the last few weeks we've identified two new terror cells in our area,” said Lieutenant Ronnie Maloney, 34.

“When we came here, we all knew there was the possibility something bad could happen. Still it's upsetting,” said Sgt. Walter Nichols, 42, a police officer in Niagara Falls who was in the Aug. 7 patrol. “You prepare, plan and know it's possible. But you never expect it to happen to you.”

Private First Class Rios is scheduled to be laid to rest with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery on 12 October 2005.

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