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Army Pfc. Gustavo A. Rios-Ordonez

Died June 20, 2011 Serving During Operation Enduring Freedom

25, of Englewood, Ohio; assigned to 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.; died June 20 in West Pashmul, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.

Memorial for fallen soldier draws hundreds

By Robert Sullivan

Richmond (Ind.) Palladium-Item

EATON, Ohio — Hundreds of residents lined the streets of this small town Tuesday to pay respect to a fallen soldier.

Most of the people who gathered waving American flags never met Pfc. Gustavo A. Rios-Ordonez. Few even knew who he was before he died last week while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

But all wanted to be on hand to honor the Colombian national who was attempting to gain his U.S. citizenship when his life was cut short June 20 by what the Army says was an improvised explosive device in Kandahar Province.

“I didn’t know him, but I didn’t have to,” said Preble County resident Gene Milroy, who served in the Army between the Korean and Vietnam wars.

“He was honored to serve, and we are honored to have him serve,” added Eaton resident Patty Perry. “My granddaughter went to school with his wife, but I didn’t know him. I just wanted to come out and show my support for his family and for him and for our troops.”

Rios-Ordonez was 25 years old and leaves behind family, including parents Gilberto and Diana Rios of Richmond and wife Tiffani and two daughters, Isabella and Elizabeth, who reside in Eaton.

Diana Rios is also the managing partner of Fiesta Charra Mexican restaurant in Eaton, Ohio.

He was born in Colombia and did not move to the United States until August 2007. He lived in Englewood, Ohio, until joining the U.S. Army in 2010. He was assigned to B Troop Fourth Squadron, Fourth Cavalry Regiment, First Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kan.

“My son (Aaron Tapalman) is a captain in the Army near the Pakistan border in Afghanistan, and when I heard about (Rios-Ordonez’s) death last week — it just stops you in your tracks ... it rips at your heart,” said West Alexandria, Ohio, resident Gene Tapalman. “I definitely have sympathies for this family.”

Tuesday’s tribute in the streets of Eaton — which Patriot Guard Riders said began with residents lining up along U.S. 35 as far east as New Lebanon, Ohio, about 12 miles to the east — culminated his body’s trip from Afghanistan back home.

A police and sheriff’s escort for Rios-Ordonez’s body was joined by 26 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, who traveled as a caravan from Dayton to Eaton to honor their fallen brother.

“This was a good turnout. The community ought to be proud,” said Xenia’s Ron Johnson, Tuesday’s ride captain for the Patriot Guard.

After being honored in town by citizens, the members of the Patriot Guard, local law enforcement, Army representatives and family unloaded Rios-Ordonez’s body and conducted a brief service at Girton Schmidt & Boucher Gard Funeral Home on the city’s west side.

“I just hope everyone stops to think that we are free for a reason,” said Patriot Guard Rider Harry Robbins of Dayton, Ohio. “His life was cut short, and we owe our freedom to him. It is not a small sacrifice that we are honoring today.”

Family reflects on fallen soldier's 'American Dream'

By Robert Sullivan

Richmond (Ind.) Palladium-Item

Most of us will be living our "American Dream" this weekend as we cook out with family, party with friends and shoot fireworks with the children to celebrate our nation's independence.

But for two area families, this holiday weekend will be a tribute to a different kind of "American Dream."

That's because today, two families will gather in Eaton, Ohio, to bury a son, a husband, a brother, a father, a nephew, a cousin -- 25-year-old Pfc. Gustavo Rios-Ordonez, a soldier who fought and died in Afghanistan last month for a country that he loved despite not being a citizen.

"When he moved here and joined the Army, his 'American Dream' became a reality," said Rios-Ordonez's sister Jennifer Rios, 23, who grew up in Richmond and is a Richmond High School and Indiana University graduate. "Growing up, he was raised in Colombia by our grandparents. Our parents were here, and he was there because they felt like that would be the best thing for him.

"They didn't abandon him. They came to the U.S. to make a better life for him. That was my parents' 'American Dream.' They sent home money to him so he could follow his dreams."

Rios-Ordonez grew up in Colombia playing soccer -- he dreamed of being a professional soccer player as a boy, his siblings remember -- and working hard in school as he prepared to attend college.

"I remember when Jennifer and I went to Colombia for her Sweet 16 and he took us out and we had so much fun. He was really a happy person and everyone loved him," said Gustavo's cousin Tiffany Guridy, 23, who is a Richmond High School graduate attending Indiana University.

"We used to chat on MSN when we were younger and I went back and found some of the chats from after that trip. It is so sad to think that is all I have left now."

After attending two years of college in Colombia, Rios-Ordonez moved to Richmond to live with his family in 2007, Rios said.

"My parents would send me down to Colombia to see him every year, and we were very much alike. He was just a fun-loving, caring person," Rios said. "I remember he came here and he started working at my mom's restaurant (Fiesta Charra in Eaton). Then after a year, he started working in Englewood (Ohio) and moved there to live."

It was in Eaton where Rios-Ordonez first met his wife, Tiffani.

"She used to come into the restaurant and that is where they met," said Jennifer Rios. "She invited him to hang out, and that is how the relationship started. Then when he moved to Englewood, they just kept the relationship going."

The couple had one child -- daughter Isabella, 2 -- and were expecting a second -- daughter Elizabeth, 7 months -- when Rios-Ordonez joined the Army in August 2010.

He was assigned to B Troop Fourth Squadron, Fourth Cavalry Regiment, First Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kan., after completing boot camp in Georgia.

Tiffani and the girls moved home to Eaton to live with her mother, Diane Salisbury, when Rios-Ordonez was transported to serve in Afghanistan.

While he was there, he called his mother every Tuesday -- her day off -- to say hello and talk.

But that weekly call never came June 21. Rios-Ordonez died June 20 in Kandahar Province by what the Army said was an improvised explosive device. Jennifer described what a fellow soldier told the family about the incident.

"It happened in the morning when he was on a routine early morning patrol," said Jennifer Rios. "One guy from his platoon said people started shooting and there were three of them on patrol that ran for cover. They ran over a landmine, and he was the last one running and when he stepped on it, it exploded.

"He said they couldn't see him and the (medical) helicopter couldn't land because of the shooting."

The pain of Rios-Ordonez's loss was felt immediately and continues to be felt by family members.

"He really was the absolute FINEST Man I have ever had the pleasure to know, love and be related to!" Salisbury wrote in an email about her son-in-law. "He married my daughter and treated her like a queen. She is my middle child, and needed his devotion and love more than anyone, and this man made her the happiest woman alive, while he was alive. This hurts to the soul, and we miss him terribly. They had such wonderful plans, and seeing the 'notifiers' at my home just broke us all into pieces, especially her. It will be a long healing process, and the wounds will NEVER completely heal ... ."

Rios-Ordonez's 14-year-old brother Gilbert Rios said Thursday that he was initially angry when he heard the news, but now he wants to honor his brother with his actions instead of continuing to be mad about his death.

"I was mad because he joined -- I was scared that he would die or get hurt," said Gilbert Rios, who will be a freshman at Richmond High School in the fall. "I am still a little mad but I also understand that this was what he wanted to do.

"Growing up, his life's dream was to play soccer, and he really wanted me to play soccer. So I am going to play soccer and work hard because that is what he wanted for me."

The soldier was mourned by hundreds of people who lined the streets of Eaton on Tuesday as Pfc. Gustavo Rios-Ordonez was returned home from Dayton's Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Most did not know the young soldier or his story. They did not understand his dreams.

But all stood silent and saluted or waved American flags as his flag-draped casket rolled by in the back of a shiny black hearse escorted by law enforcement and Patriot Guard Riders.

"He joined because it was something he wanted to do," said Jennifer Rios. "He was doing well and working, and he didn't need to join the Army, but he really liked the whole war thing and that was something he wanted to do -- and not to get his citizenship. It was definitely his calling. It never passed through his mind that he was not from here. He just wanted to do something good for other people."

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