Screaming Eagles Through Time
Sgt. Ariel Rico

Sgt. Ariel Rico, 25, of El Paso, Texas; assigned to 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based in Fort Campbell, Ky.; killed Nov. 28 during an enemy mortar attack in Mosul, Iraq.

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Sgt. Ariel Rico Memorial Book

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Soldier's siblings, friends recall his humor, loyalty

Laura Cruz
El Paso Times

Family and friends of Sgt. Ariel Rico -- a 1996 Del Valle High School graduate who died Friday in Iraq after a mortar attack -- are still trying to accept the death of the man, known as "Artie" to loved ones, whom they described as sweet, funny and silly.

"It still hasn't hit me," said Mirna Armendariz, 29, Rico's sister, during a telephone interview from her home in Phoenix. "I guess it's because he was such a fighter. He was really strong, and maybe I just don't want to believe it."

Rico, who is remembered by most for his comedic behavior, was the 11th soldier with El Paso ties to have been killed in Iraq and the third El Paso native to die since the war began in March.

Rico, 25, was in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division when four mortar shells pounded the division's base in Mosul. The division is based in Fort Campbell, Ky., and Rico is the post's 53rd soldier to die as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Funeral arrangements have not been confirmed, but Armendariz and her older brother, Staff Sgt. Jose "Bobby" Rico, are both expecting to fly to El Paso later this week to finalize any arrangements. Rico's widow, Jessica Rico, was not available for comment Monday.

"She's hanging in there, but the loss of a loved one is tough," said Tony Orozco, Jessica Rico's father, who answered the phone at Rico's home in Kentucky. The couple, who were high school sweethearts, have a 7-year-old daughter, Jadelyn.

Spc. Michael Torres, who is currently stationed in Tikrit, Iraq, with the 4th Infantry Division, said in an e-mail to the El Paso Times that he was "sad to learn that one of my friends was killed in Mosul."

"I went to elementary school with Artie and lived just around the corner from his house," Torres said. "Artie was a good person ... always making me laugh. Every little thing he did was to make someone laugh."

Jose Rico, 30, who called his brother "narizón" (big nose), said he was surprised when his younger brother joined the Army.

"I wanted something better for him than the Army, but it's something he really wanted to do and I backed him up 100 percent," he said during a telephone interview from his home in Mississippi.

Armendariz said she is very proud of her younger brother because he was helping to protect his family and his country.

"He had the biggest heart out of all of us," she said. "When we were younger, I was always protecting him. I remember beating up a little boy in school because he was picking on Artie."

In high school, "Artie" was not only able to protect himself from bullies but also joined the football team and played on Del Valle's varsity squad his senior year.

"He was a very happy-go-lucky kid, and everyone loved him because he was very sincere," said Mike Beltran, Del Valle football assistant coach. "He always wanted to be a Conquistador, and he eventually was. He was one of Del Valle's finest."

English teacher Marsha Gee said although Rico was silly in the classroom, she knew that he was a very loyal friend, son and brother.

"When I learned about his death, I felt a sort of emptiness," Gee said. "In the course of teaching, you lose students to accidents, but this is my first student lost to a war, and it's hard to lose good people like Artie."

Ariel Rico's death is the third for the Rico family. Their father died in 1983 of a heart attack, and their mother died in 1998 of breast cancer.

"I'm going to miss his stupid jokes," Rico's sister, Mirna, said. "He never called me by my name. He always called me "sis," and I think that is what I'm going to miss the most."

"I'll miss his love and how much he loved to joke around," said Rico's brother, Jose. "Whenever I do grow up, I want to be just like my little brother."

Laura Cruz may be reached at lcruz@elpasotimes.com; 546-6136.

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Soldiers from Battery C, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division stand at a memorial service Tuesday for Sgt. Ariel Rico at Camp Eagle in Mosul, Iraq. Rico died Friday when mortars hit the camp, which is headquarters for the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based division. Kendra Helmer / S&S

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A 101st Airborne Division soldier comforts a fellow soldier at memorial service for Sgt. Ariel Rico. Kendra Helmer / S&S

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Soldiers at the memorial service for Sgt. Ariel Rico. Kendra Helmer / S&S

Sergeant's personality 'rocked the world'

By Kendra Helmer, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Wednesday, December 3, 2003

MOSUL, Iraq — Sgt. Ariel Rico smiled even as water flooded his living space at Camp Eagle. Falling face first into mud while pushing a Humvee didn’t wipe away his grin, either.

“I think someone forgot to tell Sgt. Rico that there was an emotion besides happiness,” said Capt. Steven C. Fahlenkamp at Rico’s memorial service Tuesday.

Rico, 26, who died Friday after four mortars struck near the Mosul palace, was remembered by buddies as a lighthearted mentor and family man.

About 150 people gathered for the service on a cold, foggy morning outside the palace, the 101st Airborne Division headquarters. Tearful soldiers embraced after filing past the gunner’s helmet, carbine and boots. Propped against them was a photo of Rico on Thanksgiving, the day before he died.

“Sgt. Rico just had a look about him that said, ‘I am funny,’” said 1st Sgt. Timothy E. Howard.

In February, Rico was assigned to Battery C, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment. He requested the assignment to his old battery, which he had first served with in Fort Campbell, Ky., when he joined the military five years ago.

Word spread quickly earlier this year that Rico was heading back to Fort Campbell. Fahlenkamp, the battery commander, said three soldiers in 30 minutes approached him and said, “Rico’s coming back. We have to do whatever it takes to get him back in the battery.”

The El Paso, Texas, native was known for getting the job done and pumping up his soldiers with comments such as “Slap it up, baby,” and the standard greeting, “What’s up, pah-tner?” The R&B and rap music fan was quick to talk about his family, whose photos splashed the walls around his cot.

Minutes before the 11:30 a.m. attack, Howard talked to Rico, who was on his way to get cash. Howard asked Rico to get some for him, too.

“He said with the funniest facial expression I have seen from him yet, ‘How much, first sarge? Ten, 15 Gs? You ask for it, you got it.’ It wasn’t what he said that made me laugh, it was just the way he packaged it ... the goofy grin, the way he carried himself,” Howard said.

Sgt. Michael Deason was stationed at Camp Casey, South Korea, with Rico in 2002.

“He had a personality that rocked the world,” he said. “No matter what, he would always pick you up and make your day brighter.”

After his Korea tour, Rico returned to his old battery. “He wanted to come home; this is a family here,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Trujillo.

In Mosul, Rico was the 4th section gunner for the battery, the primary guard force for the division’s headquarters. He was responsible for tower guard, entry control points and the quick reactionary force. He was the first soldier in the “Red Knights” battalion to die since the division arrived in Iraq in March.

He is survived by his wife, Jessica, and daughter, Jadelyn, 7.

Howard said Rico’s dying words were, “Tell my family that I love them.”