Army Pvt. Jair De Jesus Garcia, 29, Porter Ranch

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

As a boy growing up in the San Fernando Valley, Jair De Jesus Garcia was drawn to the fine arts, tastes his mother took every opportunity to nurture.

Maria Luisa Avneri regularly would take the boy, her youngest, and his three siblings on trips to museums, plays, concerts and other performances. One of her lasting memories was looking over at 10-year-old Jair in a darkened theater, his face aglow as he took in his first opera, “Madame Butterfly.”

When it came to his own artistic endeavors, Jair was more fickle, she said, recalling the procession of rented instruments: a piano, trumpet and saxophone. If it took some time for him to settle on his favorite instrument -- the sax -- the same could be said of how he found his life’s calling.

Garcia went to Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, where he played football and ran track, his mother said. He also loved soccer and dreamed of winning a spot as a goalie with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

That didn’t happen, but Garcia maintained his passion for the sport as an assistant soccer coach at Robert Fulton College Preparatory School in Van Nuys and as part of the “Riot Squad,” a boisterous group of professionals that roots for the Galaxy.

After graduation, Garcia applied himself in various jobs. Still, nothing made him feel complete until he joined the Army, his mother said.

His transformation into a soldier really began during his early adulthood in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, she said.

Avneri said her son expressed interest in signing up for military service, but she warned him that it would be an arduous, all-encompassing commitment. He needed to be sure. In the meantime, Garcia had a son and got married.

But Army life was not far from his mind. He continued to follow developments from the Middle East and, in particular, from Afghanistan.

Then, in 2007, he approached his parents and told them he was ready to serve.

“Mom, I want you to know that someone has to do it, and I want to do it,” Avneri recalled him telling his parents.

After basic training, he was assigned to the 6th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas.

Though she half hoped that he might change his mind, Avneri said, it was hard to deny the positive change in her son when he came home to Porter Ranch on leave.

He was in great shape, was tall and broad-shouldered, looking “so handsome in his uniform,” she said. “He told me, ‘Be proud of me.’ ”

Garcia, 29, had been in Afghanistan less than two months when military officials announced that he was among four soldiers killed Aug. 1 when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb in the Chowkay Valley area of northeastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province.

In addition to his mother, he is survived by his wife, Gabriella; his son, Noah, from a previous relationship; his father, Guadalupe Garcia; his stepfather, Jacob Avneri; two brothers, Ricardo and Eduardo Garcia; and a sister, Celeste Garcia. He was buried at Riverside National Cemetery.

Avneri said at first she was devastated and so empty inside that she wondered about how she could go on living.

But several days after receiving the news, an e-mail came that gave her a measure of peace. The message was from her son and dated the day before his death. Avneri saw it as a sign.

“I felt like he was embracing me,” she said. “He told me, ‘I’m OK, I’m fine.’ He died doing what he wanted to do. He was fulfilled.”