There was never much question what A.J. Castro would do once he got out of high school.
“When he was 6 or 7, his idea of a great birthday was to go to an Army surplus store,” recalled his father, Hector Castro. “I remember looking at his closet and he had every color of camouflage you could think of.”
As a young man, A.J. followed what he saw as his destiny. Soon after graduating from Westlake High School in 2008, the roly-poly little boy who had worked himself into a rock-hard football player joined the Army.
FOR THE RECORD:
A.J. Castro obituary: A photo that accompanied the obituary of Army Spc. Andrew Jordan Castro in the Oct. 24 California section lacked a photographer’s credit. The photo, which showed Castro in his Westlake High School football uniform, was taken by Tony Panzica. —
Spc. Andrew Jordan Castro, 20, was killed Aug. 28, three weeks after he arrived in Afghanistan. He and another soldier died after insurgents attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device in the village of Babur, military officials said.
“I tried so hard to convince him not to join,” said his father, who lives in Los Angeles. “But he taught me a lesson about patriotism: He said, ‘Dad, I’m doing this for my cousins, my friends and my country. I really want to do this.’ ”
Hector Castro, a longtime volunteer and game announcer for the football program at his son’s high school, said he didn’t know how to respond — except to agree.
“That pretty much killed every argument I had,” he said.
A.J. Castro grew up in Westlake Village with his mother, Carmen Roman, and his two older brothers, Steven and Ryan. An Army sergeant, Ryan Castro returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq just days before A.J. left for Afghanistan from his base at Ft. Campbell, Ky.
Castro was the second former football player from Westlake High to die in Afghanistan in less than two years. In March 2009, Navy Lt. j.g. Francis L. Toner IV 26, was fatally shot by an Afghan soldier while jogging on a trail at his base. The shooter killed Toner and Lt. Florence Bacong Choe, then killed himself, according to a U.S. military spokesman.
Now, Castro’s death has sent a second wave of sorrow through the high school and its football team. Players now wear his jersey number — 45 — and the screaming-eagle emblem of his 101st Airborne Division on their helmets, his father said.
Several years ago, the Westlake High football team began looking to the 101st for inspiration. During World War II, the division was the “band of brothers” celebrated in historian Stephen Ambrose’s book and an HBO miniseries of the same name, and each year, the team hosts Ed “Doc” Pepping, a 101st veteran who parachuted into Normandy. Castro signed on with the outfit because of the team’s association with it.
Although he could have finished out his tour in the U.S., Castro reenlisted in order to join members of his platoon in Afghanistan, those who knew him said.
“He was a perfect soldier in every way,” said Sgt. 1st Class Norris Kennedy. “I affectionately called him ‘mijo.’ He was just like a son to me.”
Castro was trained in Pashto, one of the languages spoken in Afghanistan. His job was to “talk to people and try to gain intelligence on the enemy by word of mouth,” Kennedy said.
Quick with a joke, Castro was also “an informal leader” of his unit, Kennedy said. “People gravitated to him.”
He and Sgt. Patrick K. Durham, 24, of Chattanooga, Tenn. were killed as they tried to aid fellow soldiers who were under fire, the military said. After his death, Castro was awarded the Bronze Star.
He was buried Sept. 10 at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village.