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Army National Guard Capt. Bruno de Solenni, 32, Crescent City; killed by roadside bomb in Afghanistan

As a timber faller, Bruno de Solenni labored through the spring and summer in groves of giant redwood, cedar and fir. As a soldier, he died in Afghanistan, and the tree trunks he sawed and milled became his coffin.

The Army National Guard captain was killed Sept. 20 when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle, on which he was a gunner, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, southwest of Kabul.

De Solenni, 32, was assigned to the Joint Forces Headquarters, Element Training Team in Salem, Ore. In Afghanistan, he was helping to train the national army.

Capt. Dominic Oto, who was driving the vehicle when it struck the 500-pound explosive, remembered De Solenni as a natural leader with a generous spirit -- "one of the finest battle captains I've ever seen."

Oto met De Solenni in January but said he had heard of him long before. "Everybody always had a Bruno story," he said. "It was like hanging out with the Fonz. He was the coolest guy you ever met."

De Solenni's father, Mario, learned that his son won over Afghan troops when, upon meeting them, he jumped onto a table, raised a fist and yelled, "I am Capt. Bruno! I am here to lead you into battle!"

De Solenni's mother, California Martin, said, "He was so moved by how terribly the Taliban treated people. He felt a great deal that [the Afghan people] needed someone to help them stand up."

A native of Crescent City, Calif., a coastal town of about 7,500 residents just south of the Oregon border, De Solenni had served in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in 2003 and in Iraq in 2005.

"He started getting deployed a lot when he didn't have to," said Todd Nickel, who lowered the casket that he and De Solenni's family built into the grave they dug at the St. Joseph's Catholic Church cemetery in Crescent City. "He actually thought they were making a difference."

Nickel hired De Solenni fresh out of high school at his logging company, Northwest Chopping, but not without hesitation.

"I didn't think he was really for it," said Nickel, 47. "It just struck me odd he'd work so hard when he didn't have to."

De Solenni persisted and eventually became Nickel's business partner.

When it wasn't logging season, the two fished for crab on Nickel's boat. De Solenni eventually bought his own 36-foot vessel, the Sea Belle.

About twice a year, De Solenni and his identical twin, Ricardo, hunted for deer.

Last November, the brothers and a friend hunted through Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming in what Ricardo de Solenni said "was the best trip I remember" with his brother.

"We were always kind of pranksters, just having a good time," he said. "Bruno was the guy you wanted to be doing that with. You felt a lot more secure, that he had your back and wouldn't sell you short."

On that trip, Ricardo de Solenni said, he told his brother that he had "a bad, bad feeling" about his going to Afghanistan.

His twin wouldn't hear anything of it.

"When an Afghan comes up to you thanking you for everything that you have done to help them and for making their [home] a better place now that the Taliban are gone . . . this is probably the biggest reason why I proudly enjoy being over here," Bruno de Solenni wrote nine days before his death in an e-mail that was later published in his hometown paper, the Daily Triplicate.

De Solenni didn't join the military in 1996 with the same convictions though.

He enlisted the day after Christmas, feeling "like I was going nowhere with my life and needed to take a new direction," he wrote to a Triplicate reporter. "I was always fascinated with history and the military, and was amazed at some of the hardships my grandfather endured in both WWI and WWII."

That interest led him to enroll at Southern Oregon University, where in 2004 he earned a bachelor's degree in history.

While trying to convince Nickel that he was an aspiring lumberjack De Solenni insisted that he had no intention of following in his parents' footsteps by becoming a lawyer or teacher. In time, his goals changed.

De Solenni filled in as a substitute teacher at his alma mater, Del Norte High School, where his mother teaches Spanish. With his father, a lawyer, he spoke of a future in politics, where he would fight against big government and environmental restrictions on woodlands.

"He took this stuff personally and thought people should do something about it," Nickel said. "That's what I admired about him. . . . He believed in what he was doing."

In addition to his parents and twin, he is survived by another brother, Gino; and a sister, Pia Conway.

Lin is a Times staff writer.

joanna.lin@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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