Army Pvt. Robbie Mariano, 21, Stockton; Among 5 Troops Dead in Roadside Bombing

Army Pvt. Robbie Mariano asked for two simple things in the care package from his family: protein powder, so he could stay in the best shape while at war, and guitar strings, so he could continue playing for the soldiers in his camp.

“He loved music,” said his mother, Debbie. “He would always sing. He was always making people laugh too. He was really popular, had lots of friends.”

But the box, already on its way to Iraq, would not make it into Mariano’s hands.

The 21-year-old from Stockton was among five soldiers killed Jan. 5 when a roadside bomb exploded near their Humvee in Najaf, south of Baghdad, according to the Defense Department.

Also killed were Maj. William F. Hecker III, 37, of St. Louis; Sgt. Johnny J. Peralez Jr., 25, of Kingsville, Texas; Capt. Christopher P. Petty, 33, of Vienna, Va.; and Sgt. 1st Class Stephen J. White, 39, of Talladega, Ala.

All were assigned to the Army’s 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas.

Mariano’s father, Bob, said his son joined the Army in November 2004, shortly after graduating from Stagg High School, and soon found a second family among his fellow soldiers.

Deployed to Iraq in late 2005, he worked to fight insurgents, manning a .50-caliber machine gun atop a Humvee.

“He was always upbeat about the war and believed in what he was doing over there,” said the elder Mariano, a Stockton police sergeant. “The Army was his new family. I talked to him about 10 hours before he died. He said he was doing fine.”

Bob Mariano said his son had planned to leave the service in 2008, attend college on the GI Bill and possibly follow in his father’s footsteps with a career in law enforcement.

In addition to his parents, Robbie Mariano is survived by a 19-year-old brother, Bobby.