Guardsman killed in Iraq had hope for its people
James Riekena never hesitated when a longtime friend told him over the phone that she was in severe pain. He ran to Mary Wright's office...
Seattle Times staff reporter
James Riekena never hesitated when a longtime friend told him over the phone that she was in severe pain.
He ran to Mary Wright's office, carried her down the stairs and drove her to a nearby hospital. There, he sat and held Wright's hand for most of the day, until she was admitted for emergency surgery.
That was last winter, soon after Spc. Riekena, an Eagle Scout and member of the National Guard, returned from a year in Iraq. By the fall, Spc. Riekena, 22, had volunteered for a second tour of duty.
Though his Idaho unit, the 145th Brigade Support Battalion, was remaining stateside, Spc. Riekena offered to bolster the ranks of the short-staffed Puerto Rico National Guard, said Lt. Col. Stephanie Dowling, spokeswoman for the Idaho Guard.
Spc. Riekena was killed Sunday in Baghdad, when an improvised explosive device blew up near his Humvee, according to the Army.
At least 70 soldiers with roots in Washington state have died since the Iraq war began nearly four years ago.
Wright, 19, credited Spc. Riekena with bravery and perhaps even saving her life the day she went into surgery.
"I'm really thankful for what he did. He's always there for you or anyone," Wright said. "I'm very grateful that I've had him in my life."
Tuesday, friends and family said that Spc. Riekena loved literature and writing, and hoped to attend college to become an English teacher. His writing skills were shown in a letter to his grandparents during his first Iraq tour:
"It's such an odd place. My heart aches at the sight of how they live, though from it, as all things in life, I continue to learn. Respect and appreciation for all that I have. To really cherish the smallest of things I never did before. Another lesson is that again of hope — to keep hope for a people and place where it seems all hope is lost."
His grandmother, Sharon Riekena, of Missoula, Mont., said her grandson sometimes shared his thoughts about Iraq with her because she lived in Baghdad for three years as a teenager while her father was an agricultural adviser there.
In an e-mail sent Thursday, Spc. Riekena told his close-knit family he was keeping fit by running every day, was enjoying a couple of days off and would see everyone soon, his grandmother said.
Spc. Riekena was born in Missoula and moved to Redmond with his family in 1993. He dedicated most weekends to scouting.
After graduating from Redmond High School, Spc. Riekena moved to Post Falls, Idaho, where he worked installing fences and joined the Guard.
"I think he felt kind of lost. He was away from his friends and he needed to find out who he was," said close friend Justin Nelson. "He saw the National Guard as the way to go.
"He wasn't too worried about it, because that unit hadn't been to war for 20 years or something. But a month after he joined, he got called in. Then it turned into a whole new thing for him."
Nelson said Spc. Riekena loved his job and believed he was meant to be a soldier.
Although he had difficulty accepting the political aspects of the war, Spc. Riekena believed strongly he was helping others overcome their hardships, Nelson said. He found new truth in the meaning of war and freedom.
When Spc. Riekena returned from his first tour, he moved back to Redmond to be close to his four siblings, said his sister, Jaime Riekena, 18.
"He was really close to all of us," she said. "He wanted to always keep the family together and would help you with any problem you had."
Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or email@example.com
Seattle Times researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.
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