Mark Ryan Climaco Caguioa – Corporal, United States Army

NEWS RELEASES from the United States Department of Defense

May 29, 2007

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Specialist Mark R. C. Caguioa, 21, of Stockton, California, died May 24, 2007, at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, of wounds suffered on May 4, 2007, in Baghdad, Iraq, when the vehicle he was in struck an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

U.S. President George W. Bush consoled the family of Filipino American Corporal Mark Ryan Climaco-Caguioa, a casualty of the U.S. war in Iraq. Caguioa was among the casualties when an improvised explosive device (IED) ripped through his patrol’s Humvee in southern Baghdad last May 4, 2007.

In a rare honor befitting his heroism, Bush acceded to the Caguioa family’s request that Mark be remembered at Arlington National Cemetery, the traditional resting place of American heroes, although his remains will be buried at the Presidio in San Francisco, a soldier’s cemetery steeped in history.

The family admitted that they first resisted the opportunity to meet Bush since they opposed the Iraq war. Caguioa's grandfather, Arthur Climaco of Modesto, California , however, said the family did not want to tarnish Mark’s legacy because he chose to fight in Iraq.

“The President gave his condolences and asked if we needed anything,” Climaco told ABS-CBN. He said they met at the President’s office at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland on the eve of Memorial Day, when Americans traditionally honor their dead heroes.

Mark's family earlier balked at a suggestion by U.S. officials to bury Mark's remains buried at Arlington. The family said the cemetery was too far from their home in Stockton, California.

Bush approved their proposal that a tombstone with Mark’s name be placed at Arlington while his remains are interred at the Presidio on Saturday, June 2. Mark will be given full military honors.

Mark was brought to Bethesda after losing both his legs in the IED attack. He fought valiantly but the IED – the single biggest killer of US troops in Iraq – inflicted such a terrible toll on his body that doctors were forced to amputate his right arm last week. He died a few days later.

He would have celebrated his 22nd birthday on Friday, June 1.

Fil-American community leaders here joined “kababayans” from the West Coast in condoling with Mark’s mother and the rest of his family.

Climaco said they were surprised by the outpouring of support and sympathy from the Fil-American community and even from the Philippines. “He was very brave and joining the US Army was his own decision,” he said.

Mark was born to Filipino immigrants and grew up in Stockton, his “lolo” recalls. He graduated from the Bear Creek High School in 2002, but was sidetracked on his third year at the Joaquin Delta College when he enlisted in the US Army in 2005. He was posted with the 2nd Brigade, First Cavalry at Fort Hood, Texas until the unit was deployed to Iraq in October 2006.

Climaco said Mark never told them he was joining the Army and the news caught everyone by surprise. A close relative, who also served in the US Army, tried to talk Mark into withdrawing. He said Mark actually volunteered to join the infantry, knowing this was almost a sure ticket to Baghdad. “But he never relented”, Climaco says of his favorite grandson.

Mark grew up with his “lolo” but when his mother remarried, he decided to live with her because Climaco had moved to Modesto, California.

As more and more Filipino Americans are drawn into the Iraq conflict, Mark has become a symbol of the sacrifices of Filipino Americans to earn their rightful place in the US. Last Saturday, the largest batch of Filipinos graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point – one Filipino sent by the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and seven FilAms, including two women.

Filipino graduate 2nd Lt. Carl Liwanag noted the emphasis on what US troops may face in Iraq, including the threat of IEDs. “We face a different kind of threat, but we are also fighting terrorism,” Liwanag said as he contemplated the own perils he will face in combat in the Philippines.

2nd Lt. James Peralta of Orange County, California told ABS-CBN News that there has been a marked change in the attitude of his classmates.

“The past few years people wanted non-combat arms. They didn’t want to see Iraq. They tried to avoid it as much as possible, but now we all want to go to join the fight,” he revealed.

The new West Point graduates won’t be going to Iraq immediately since most of them will be deployed in Korea and Okinawa, Japan. Some have admitted that the wishes of their parents that they shouldn’t be in a hurry to go to Iraq weighed heavily on their choice of duties.

But they realize it was just a matter of time before they are rotated to Baghdad. 2nd Lt. Sonny Tosco, a member of West Point Class 2006, says he doesn’t mind being sent to Iraq. “That’s what we’re paid to do and the greater thing is — I’m putting Filipinos on the map,” he adds.

Another fresh graduate, 2nd Lt. Bryan Olay of Union City, California, cited the same reason. “Since we’re a small minority in the military there will be more eyes on us. If some Filipino guy messes up I don’t want them to think all Filipinos are going to mess up. So whenever they see a Filipino doing good, I want them to think, hey, all Filipinos are like that, Filipinos are doing great things.”

Hero's burial for FilAm casualty of Iraq war
1 June 2007

U.S. Army Corporal Mark Ryan Climaco Caguioa would have turned 22 years old today, June 1, 2007, tomorrow, he be interred a hero at the San Francisco National Cemetery.

He lost both his legs and left arm on May 4, 2007, when an improvised explosive devise hit him in an attack south of Baghdad. Such homemade bombs are said to be the No. 1 killer of US troops in Iraq.

The son of Filipino immigrants, Caguioa died on May 24, 2007, at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, after receiving a wrong blood transfusion in Iraq while being treated for severe wounds he suffered from the May 4 injuries.

Nate Ramirez, a medical worker at the Bethesda center, said that, while being treated in Iraq, Caguioa had received six units of type O+ blood. He was a B+.

Bush condoles with family

In a rare honor requested by President George W. Bush, Caguioa will be remembered with a headstone at Arlington National Cemetery – the final resting place of America's heroes – while his remains are interred at San Francisco National Cemetery. The Presidio site is a soldier's cemetery, also steeped in military history.

“The president gave his condolences and asked if we needed anything,” said Caguioa’s grandfather, Arthur Climaco who resides in Modesto, California.

The elder Climaco said Mark Ryan is not at all related to his namesake – current top Philippine basketball player Mark Caguioa, according to Eric Lachica, executive director of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, Inc.

After the memorial service on May 26 at the Bethesda hospital, his mother, Maria Lourdes Climaco, was asked if she had any regrets.

“Mark found his calling, he loved to be a soldier. I wasn't angry with Bush. It was the choice of my son [to serve]. [However,] I did not approve of the Iraq war,” she replied.

Caguioa was raised in Stockton, California. He graduated from Bear Creek High School in 2002 and joined the U.S. Army in 2005 while at San Joaquin Delta College. Serving with the Second Brigade, First Cavalry Division, Caguioa was deployed in October 2006 for a 14-month tour.

He was the eldest of four siblings. He worked as a sushi chef at Shomi, a north Stockton restaurant, before enlisting in 2005.

The family will offer a special mass at 10 a.m. Saturday in the chapel of Lodi Funeral Home. The interment rites will start at 2 p.m. at the San Francisco National Cemetery

A reception will follow at the Presidio Golf Course & Clubhouse at 300 Finley Rd. @ Arguello Gate.

The family has created a website to inform friends and family on viewing and funeral schedules.

A stream of visitors leaves messages at the site for the fallen soldier and his loved ones.

“Mark Ryan is a ‘tunay na bayani’. He volunteered to risk his life in defense of country, so that you and I and the rest of freedom loving and democratic nations can enjoy and preserve their rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,” said Freddie Garcia of Silicon Valley in California.

“Mark Ryan was funny, caring, selfless, honest, generous and a whole host of other amazing things and those who have met him would agree,” a message from the family said.

“On May 4, 2007, we received a call informing us Mark had been injured. We were told his vehicle was caught in an IED explosion while on patrol and was in critical condition. Our family was devastated. He was transferred to Germany from south Baghdad and finally to the States over the next week. Mark was treated by some of the best, if not THE best doctors at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Although his doctors tried their very best, his injuries were far too great. On Thursday afternoon, May 24, 2007 Mark succumbed to his wounds. He was 21 years old. WE MISS YOU, MARKY!” the announcement at the site said.

Bush met with Caguioa’s family, including his stepfather Roger Rodrigo, and half-brother, Sean Rodrigo, at his office at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center on May 25, the day after Mark Ryan died.

Caguioa was reported to be the 22nd member of the US military with ties to San Joaquin County and the 10th from Stockton, California to die in the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 The family said it has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and sympathy from the Filipino-American community and from the Philippines.

“He was very brave, and joining the U.S. Army was his own decision,” the elder Climaco described his grandson. “He never relented.”

Caguioa was assigned to the 2nd Brigade, First Cavalry at Fort Hood, Texas where he met 19-year-old Megan McCommas of Florence, Texas, at a dance. They were engaged to be married.

“It’s been hard for me since you've been gone! I know I'll miss you and will always love you no matter what. I hope you’re watching down on us from heaven and wishing for the best for everyone. I love you!” said his fiancée.

People familiar with the Filipino American's case expressed concern that military medical personnel are becoming more prone to mistakes because of the strain of dealing with mounting casualties in Iraq

They also expressed worry that this situation – along with the botched transfusion – could be covered up. Their concerns follow several widely publicized cases of government misinformation regarding soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, notably the cases of Cpl. Pat Tillman and Pvt. Jessica Lynch.

“They're getting sloppy,” one medical worker said. “They're getting tired.” He added that “the whole system” is under strain because there are “so many casualties.”

The cases of Tillman and Lynch were subjects of congressional hearings in April. Originally portraying Tillman's death as a result of enemy fire in Afghanistan, military officials initially ordered Tillman's peers not to inform his family that he had actually died in friendly fire.

Tillman's family did not receive the true story about their son's death until after an awards ceremony celebrating the former NFL star and Army Ranger.

Officials also put out an erroneous story of Lynch's heroism when her convoy was attacked in the early days of the war in Iraq. When Lynch was captured in 2003, initial reports claimed that she had gone down fighting, firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition.

Lynch later set the record straight, telling Newsweek magazine that “I didn't even get a shot off.”

Caguioa's death follows the April death toll of over 100 American troops: the deadliest month for 2007. His death has raised questions as to the frequency of such medical mistakes as casualties soar. This concern is magnified by recent reports of poor outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, located near the National Naval Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Although Walter Reed was supposed to be closed, and patients moved to the Bethesda complex, the hospital has remained open due to the high amount of casualties. Reports surfaced earlier this year that the hospital had neglected wounded soldiers in the outpatient system, providing substandard housing for many of them and requiring them to navigate a bureaucratic maze to get benefits they deserved.

Caguioa's death came a day before President George W. Bush visited the National Naval Medical Center to pay respects to wounded soldiers ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, a time when the nation honors the contributions of America's men and women in Combat.

His family decided to end life-support when his organs failed and the damage from the bad blood transfusion could not be reversed. One source familiar with the case said Caguioa might have been able to survive his wounds if not for the botched procedure.

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