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Soldier ‘gave us an inheritance’

20140426 PFC Diego Montoya Dedication lg-09There’s a peace that radiates from Rosie Peña Guerra when she talks about her son, Pfc. Diego Montoya, who died in Afghanistan in 2010.

That peace doesn’t waver when she talks about how her twin sons, David and Mark Guerra, didn’t have to be prodded to serve their country. David is in the Navy, and currently serving in the Mediterranean and Mark is in Army training in Georgia.

“It’s times like these that you come so close and even closer to the Lord than you have ever been before,” Peña Guerra said. “It’s built my faith. I stand on God and His word. I realize that my kids are only borrowed for a moment, but that’s who I depend on to get me through difficult times to be able to have peace and to be able to have rest and come through the grief and mourning.”

Two of Peña Guerra’s brothers served in the Navy, as well as her husband. She’s proud her boys didn’t need to be pushed to serve; they wanted to do it.

Weeks ago, Mission City Commission voted to honor son Montoya’s memory by renaming Eighth Street, west of Conway to Cummings Avenue, in the fallen soldier’s memory. A ceremony to recognize the street name change was held Saturday at Pepsi Park during the Battle of the Bats softball tournament to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project.

“The street dedication is truly an honor to our family,” Peña Guerra said. “We need to remember that the veterans and the fallen gave us an inheritance for our freedom and our liberty and this way of life that we have here.”

Montoya’s sister Gabriella said a dream she had more than a year before he died illustrates God is always with her. She dreamed she was walking up a flight of stairs and at the top was a casket with her brother inside.

“I realized that was God telling me that everything that happens is for His purpose and with perfect reason,” Gabriella said.

Attending the ceremony was Sgt. Joe Contreras, of San Antonio, who served with Montoya in Afghanistan. The two bonded over their shared South Texas roots, and Montoya went to school with Contreras’ nephew.

The sergeant joined the military in 2000 and he took it upon himself to look out for Montoya, who Contreras said was small in stature, but had a big bark and fight. Montoya, Contreras said, came off tough, as a hardworker who wouldn’t ask for help because he wanted to prove himself.

“Being in the same platoon, I kind of felt that it was my duty to try and protect him more and take him under my wing as much as I could,” Contreras said. “We weren’t in the same squad, but I did what I could to try and mentor him as best I could.”

Montoya enlisted as a military policeman in July 2009, a year after graduating high school. He was deployed to northern Afghanistan in May 2010 with the 720th Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade. He died Sept. 2 when insurgents attacked his unit with indirect fire.

Though the family moved to San Antonio during his freshmen year of high school, Peña Guerra brought her son’s body back to Mission, their hometown, for burial.

His awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with campaign star, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, NATO Medal, Army Service Ribbon and Combat Action Badge.

Peña Guerra said she knew Montoya had military inclinations from a young age. At his funeral, his fourth-grade teacher brought her his time capsule. In it, the young soldier-in-the-making identified himself as Gen. Diego Montoya.

And about a decade later, when Montoya told his parents he wanted to join the military, he had their blessing after warning him it was a time of war.

“He just said, ‘I need to go out there. If I don’t go out there, who else is going to go?’” Peña Guerra said. “He was red, white and blue all over.”

She pointed out a quote on his Myspace page, “My friends are my downfall. I would do anything for them.”

“And that’s what he did,” Peña Guerra said.

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