Story by SGT Christopher Hernandez on 01/15/2019FORT BLISS, Texas During a cool, brisk Saturday morning, a group of Army Reserve Soldiers from the 210th Regional Support Group, Mobilization and Deployment Brigade, out of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico and Tatitlek civilians stood by the finish line in eager anticipation during the Race against Cancer memorial walk and run event in Fort Bliss, Texas, Jan. 12, 2019.
Suddenly, the crowd erupted in cheer as Lt. Col. Angel Vega, deputy commander of the 210th RSG/MaD BDE, and his son Angel Jr. ran in unison toward the finish line. When the pair came to a halt, both gasped in astonishment at the sight of the commemorative banner displayed before them. Sgt. Kristina Larson, noncommissioned officer in charge of the tactical operations center for the 210th RSG/MaD BDE, and another Soldier held this banner that depicted Vega and his late wife Irma walking alongside each other.
Almost immediately, Angel Jr. reached out and caught Larson in an emotional embrace, grateful for her and everyone else's contributions and participation in the event.
"Honestly, the best moment of this whole thing was when we were standing at the finish line, waiting for him and his son to come across and their reaction was they realized what was on the banner that we were holding," Larson said. "Vega and his son both thanked me about a hundred times over for everything that I put into the event. At the end of it, I just came out of it feeling really glad that they didn't feel like that they were alone. You know, that kind of feel-good stuff was unmatchable, and it gave me a sense that I was finally able to give back to somebody, and just show support in a bit of an unconventional way to help bring people together and lift him up specifically."
Since early November, Larson planned and orchestrated the memorial event with other 210th RSG Soldiers as a way to showcase the unit's solidarity and cohesion for their deputy commander and fellow comrade.
"This event (coincided) with the three-month anniversary of my wife's death," Vega said. When I talked to my son about it, he told me that he wanted to go (to Fort Bliss) to be with other Soldiers. My son has always been around Soldiers, and he understands that Soldiers are a part of our family. He came here and he was very proud, as he saw a lot of people going to this event. You can imagine how much he and I have supported that."
Larson said that he talked with Vega after his return from Puerto Rico, noting his distressed anguish from the tragedy.
"I had a conversation with Vega right after he got back from emergency leave when his wife passed away," Larson said. "He shared with me some of the obstacles he faced, and the logistics of everything that he dealt withand it just tugged on my heart strings. So it was really cool that day when he sat down and talked with me, as he was vulnerable, open and really honest. He thanked me later on for being willing to listen to him, because he really needed that at that point."
Drawing upon her own personal experiences with loss, Larson proposed the idea for Irma's dedicatory event to Vega.
"Sometimes, I do not know what to say or do when dealing with loss and death, even though I've dealt with it myself," Larson said. "So I figured that everybody can put on a T-shirt and do a five-kilometer walk and run, because that's my way in coping with that kind of stuff and honoring people since I've done a lot of that in the past. I had a lot of support within the unit, and people encouraged me to just do this for Irma, for Vega and his family."
According to Vega, he grapples with the painful loss with the same perseverance and resilience that he had following Irma's cancer prognosis.
"I remember that the first time when we went to the oncologist and they discovered her disease, he told us: This is a marathon. You need to be ready to run this marathon for a long time.' So that's we did together," Vega said. "I was with her every single appointmentand I conducted Facetime with her and the doctors just to be with her through the process. Every single day in the mornings, I was doing Facetime with her, just to eat breakfast and talk with her like a couple. We used to do this in Puerto Rico every single morning, and that's one of the things that I miss most."
In spite of the enduring hardship left in the wake of this tragedy, Vega said that the event was a great way to celebrate Irma's life and the joy that she brought to everyone that she knew.
"I had a lot of Soldiers that I've known for a long time, and she knew these Soldiers, their families, and they were all very close to her during our mobilization process," Vega said. "She was involved very heavily with family support programs, and she had that type of charisma and people skills where she talked to everybody. Knowing that she was sick, it was that more impressive to the people around her. That was the kind of person that she was."
Although Larson was the foremost event organizer, she conceded that the other Soldiers' volunteer endeavors were crucial to the overall effort.
"I was really excited and honored that Vega was open to my idea and concept, and the rest of the unit supported it from Col. Javier Rivera, the 210th RSG/MaD BDE commander, my section leadership, the people that I work beside with every single day, my peers, and everyone else in the other sections who were open to volunteer and were really supportive of the whole thing. I couldn't have done of it without all of their help, because it really took a lot of the burden off of my shoulders."
By uniting together to make this event happen, the 210th RSG/MaD BDE Soldiers have exemplified the Army Values of Loyalty, Selfless Service, and Honor. Regardless of their mission, these Army Reserve Soldiers strive to support and care for one another in times of crisis.