SAIPAN SOLDIER WINS THIRD PURPLE HEART

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Staff Sgt. Castro honored for bravery in Afghanistan

By Gemma Q. Casas SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 23, 2010) - A young soldier from Saipan who led his platoon in an encounter with the Taliban in Afghanistan was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart for the third time for his heroic deeds.

On July 5, 2010, 26-year-old Staff Sgt. Bonifacio Castro and more than a dozen other soldiers headed to a field mission in Wardag, a province about 35 kilometers away from Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, one of the Taliban’s strongholds.

During their routine roadside inspection, Castro said one of their vehicles was attacked by an improvised explosive device.

That roadside bombing claimed the life of U.S. Army Sgt. Louis Fastuca, 24, of West Chester Pennsylvania, who was with the 173rd Airbone Brigade Combat Team.

Castro, who was then the acting platoon leader, and the other soldiers quickly picked up Fastuca and the wounded and positioned themselves against the enemy.

"My soldiers, including myself, were under direct fire from the Taliban," Castro told the Variety in a phone interview.

"I made the call to go chase those guys. Being the leader of the platoon I had to do something," he added.

Castro said he threw a grenade at the insurgents.

Three Taliban members were killed while one was captured alive and turned over to U.S. military intelligence for interrogation.

His wife Julie hopes her husband’s story would inspire other U.S. military personnel to continue serving their country and protecting innocent civilians in the battle zones.

"It really means a lot for our family on Saipan to see him doing well and this can also boost the morale of other CNMI service members," she said.

Castro said the Taliban continue to be a major threat to global security.

"Afghanistan is really big. I think it’s a good strategy to keep the fight there but I don’t think we should forget about Iraq," he added.

Close to 100,000 American soldiers are currently stationed in Afghanistan. A reinforcement of about 30,000 will arrive there this month.

Castro said the fight against the Taliban is still a long way from becoming over.

"I don’t think they are that smart but they are killing a lot of us. They have come up with some technology that can counter ours," he added.

spite these challenges, Castro said he and his fellow soldiers are still dedicated to carry on their mission.

"We are here to serve and protect our country and we won’t forget the people who died in the name of freedom," he added.

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