Hawaii soldier killed in Iraq was 8 days from return
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Sgt. Alexander Gagalac had eight days before he was to leave Iraq for home when he was killed.
His sister, Grace Gagalac, said last night that Alexander Gagalac had told his family his Schofield Barracks unit was to depart Monday. "He was supposed to be home on Sept. 21," she said.
Sgt. Gagalac, who was serving his second combat tour in Iraq with the 25th Infantry Division, was killed Sunday in Al Hawijah when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his Humvee.
Twin brother Alexis was so close he even joined the Army with Alexander in 2000.
Now Hawaii Army National Guard Sgt. Alexis Gagalac has asked the Army whether he could escort his brother's body home.
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Sgt. Alexander Gagalac, shown here at left with twin brother Alexis on Waikiki Beach in 2006, was killed Sunday in Al Hawijah when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his Humvee. Both brothers were in Iraq at the same time in 2004.
Born just two minutes apart, Alexander and Alexis Gagalac were inseparable.
"When you saw one," said sister Grace Gagalac, "you would always see the other."
The twin brothers joined the Army together in 2000 to get away from the islands and do something different.
Now Hawaii Army National Guard Sgt. Alexis Gagalac has asked the Army if he could escort his brother's body home.
Sgt. Alexander Gagalac, 28, who was serving his second combat tour in Iraq with the 25th Infantry Division, was killed Sunday in Al Hawijah when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his Humvee. He was assigned to the 3rd Brigade's 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment.
Grace Gagalac last night said her brother had told his family that his unit will leave Iraq on Sept. 17.
"He was supposed to be home on Sept. 21," she said.
Instead, the family now must plan a funeral.
The Gagalac brothers joined the Army in 2000. Alexis was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division. Alexander Gagalac was sent to Schofield Barracks and assigned to the 25th Division's 2nd Brigade Combat, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment. That unit was sent to Iraq in 2004.
Both brothers were in Iraq at the same time in 2004 -- Alexander with the 25th Division and Alexis with the 1st Stryker Combat Brigade, sent from Fort Lewis, Wash.
Alexis said he made it a point to visit his twin and even gave him a haircut.
At their parent's Salt Lake home, two large photos of Alexander and his desert combat boots sit in a special memorial.
"He was really caring," said Grace Gagalac. "He was helpful and close to my daughter Jacel-lynn. He's really family oriented."
Alexis Gagalac says his twin "is my better half."
"It's really empty now," said Alexis. "When I found out, I couldn't control myself."
Alexis Gagalac was at drill Sunday with his Army National Guard unit -- Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 299th Cavalry -- when his cell phone kept beeping.
"There was a message from my mother which said, 'Come back home. Your brother is dead.' I just couldn't believe it."
Alexis Gagalac said his brother loved working on his 2003 Mazda.
"He was a great man. He will be forever missed. He will never be forgotten."
Alexander Gagalac was the second Leilehua High School graduate to die in Iraq.
Sgt. Myla L. Maravillosa, 24, of Wahiawa died in Kirkuk on Christmas Eve 2005 of injuries sustained earlier that day in Al Hawijah when her Humvee was attacked by enemy forces using rocket-propelled grenades. Maravillosa was assigned to the Army Reserve's 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. She graduated from Leilehua in 1998.
Gagalac was the 35th soldier assigned to the brigade to be killed in Iraq since it arrived in August 2006.
On his MySpace blog, Alexander Gagalac wrote: "This is very rare that (I) write a blog. For the past 13 months I have been living in a place that time forgot 'Iraq.' Now it is finally coming to an end with a few weeks to go. I can't wait to be back home with family and friends. This has been a long time coming and it's gonna feel a lot longer as it comes to those last hours that I'm here. The taste of freedom is going to be sweet."
Other survivors include his parents, Fabian and Regina Gagalac.
Alexander Gagalac's death comes just before 260 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade are scheduled to return home this afternoon from Iraq.
They are the first large contingent of the nearly 7,000 Schofield Barracks soldiers who left for Iraq in August 2006 for what was supposed to be a 12-month deployment.
However, as part of President Bush's "surge" campaign, the soldiers' tour was extended for three months.
More than 2,400 Schofield Barracks are assigned to the aviation brigade, which logged more than 15,300 flight hours in Iraq. It lost three soldiers during this Iraqi deployment.
The Schofield Barracks aviators, air crews and support staff commanded more than 220 aircraft and supported up to seven infantry, armor and Stryker brigade combat teams.