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Daniel A. Quintana dies at 30; Army staff sergeant from Huntington Park

In 2003, Daniel Quintana was a military police officer stationed at Morón Air Base in Spain. His job involved typical policing duties: foot patrol, traffic stops and domestic disputes. When he was off duty, he would play racquetball with fellow officers. He also loved to explore Spanish cities and towns.

But that year, as the U.S. led the invasion of Iraq, Quintana decided he wanted to be a soldier. He wanted to fight on the front lines.

“It shocked me,” said Jean-Claude Brooks, a retired flight chief who served alongside Quintana in Spain. “One day Daniel just said, ‘The Army is harder, it’s a bigger challenge and that’s what I want to do.’”

Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Anthony Quintana, who grew up in Huntington Park, went on to serve his first combat tour in Iraq in 2008. This summer, at the age of 30, he went to war again — in Afghanistan.

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On Sept. 10, Quintana was killed when his unit was attacked with small-arms fire in southeast Paktika province, on the Pakistani border. He was an armored vehicle crewman assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 172nd Infantry Brigade in Schweinfurt, Germany.

Even after he was struck in the chest and fell to the ground, Quintana continued to cover for soldiers behind him, said his father, Daniel Quintana Sr., who received an account of the attack from commanders at his son’s base.

“They told me they need more men like him,” his father said.

Daniel Quintana’s wife, Nilda, gave birth to their daughter in December. He also is survived by a son from a previous marriage, a stepson, his mother and his siblings.

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“Every day we think about him,” said Roland “Junior” Colmenero, a close family friend. “Of course, we’re stuck with questions ... but we’re also proud that he made it as far as he did. He is our hero.”

Quintana was born April 22, 1981, at Mission Hospital in Huntington Park. His parents separated when he was about 3 years old, and for most of his childhood he lived with his father. He loved playing sports, and his favorite football team was the Dallas Cowboys.

His family said the neighborhood was rough and Quintana could be mischievous. But he avoided gangs, they said, and showed strong ambition as he grew older.

When he was 17, Quintana left Southern California to join a Job Corps program in San Jose. He had been struggling in school at the time, his father said, and saw the program as a way to catch up on credits and obtain a diploma.

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The program shaped him into a more driven individual, his father said. Quintana enlisted in the Air Force as soon as he graduated.

Brooks, who served with Quintana in Spain, said it seemed as if Quintana was still searching for himself when he first joined the Air Force. The police job felt at times monotonous, Brooks said, and it was clear that Quintana was seeking a bigger challenge.

“He wanted to go out and do something great,” Brooks said.

After finishing his tour of duty in Spain, Quintana returned to Huntington Park for a few months, his father said. He enlisted in the Army in 2005.

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Quintana remained close with his father throughout his military career, speaking on the phone with him for hours each week. In recent years, Daniel Quintana Sr. tried to persuade his son to return home.

But the younger Quintana was resolute: He wanted to serve 20 years and complete his military career.

“He just kept telling me, ‘Dad, I love what I do. I love the work that I’m doing,’” Daniel Quintana Sr. said.

Friends and family recalled Quintana’s sense of humor and his easy manner with his children, nieces and nephews. Whenever he returned home, he took the family on trips to Disneyland or Universal Studios, his father said.

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But the strong, serious side of his personality was apparent as well.

Colmenero, the family friend, said Quintana spoke often of war this summer, before he deployed to Afghanistan.

One day, it seemed as if Quintana was having “withdrawals” from the intensity of battle, Colmenero said.

Quintana went to a sporting goods store and bought a BB gun. That afternoon, Quintana shot at targets in the backyard of his father’s Huntington Park home.

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Colmenero said he was amazed by Quintana’s focus and accuracy, the way he picked off targets, one after another.

Colmenero asked Quintana whether he was scared to return to war.

“You don’t have time to be scared,” Quintana replied. “All you’re really out for is your target…. You’re in a zone.”

Colmenero said the remark remains with him today.

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“Daniel loved serving his country, he loved going to war,” Colmenero said. “That’s all he talked about. That’s what was in his blood.”

sam.allen@latimes.com


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