UPDATED 5:47 p.m. Sunday
U.S. Army medic and Santa Clarita Christian School graduate Rudy A. Acosta, 19, was killed in combat in Afghanistan this week. The young soldier completed Army basic training Aug. 11, 2009, and was deployed to Afghanistan on June 10, 2010.
The Department of Defense announced Sunday evening that Acosta and Cpl. Donald R. Mickler, Jr., of Bucyrus, Ohio were killed March 19 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan by small arms fire from an individual from a military security group. The incident is under investigation. The men were assigned to the 4th Squadron, 2nd Stryker Calvary Regiment headquartered in Vilseck, Germany.
According to Scott Basolo, Pastor of Santa Clarita Baptist Church, Rudy's father, Dante, told the minister that his son was 58 days from the end of his deployment in Afghanistan, and was scheduled to return to Germany with his platoon.
All that changed Saturday morning.
Basolo was at the Acosta home Saturday afternoon and saw first-hand the outpouring of love for the family, estimating the number of people coming and going to offer condolences and help the family at more than 100.
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“Rudy was just a very amazing young man,” he said. “He excelled, he was part of the CIF Championship football team in 2009 and was involved in a ton of extracurricular activities.”
Basolo said that Dante also shared an e-mail he received Saturday morning from one of Rudy’s fellow soldiers, who told Rudy’s father that he was praying for the family, what a great guy Rudy was and that he had some pictures that he would forward to him.
“He thought it was good that there was another Christian guy who took the time to write to him and went on with his day,” Basolo explained. “Then about 2:30 in the afternoon, officers arrived at their door to tell them of Rudy’s death.”
Basolo said that the morning’s email took on a whole new meaning to the grieving father.
“Rudy had such heart for our country, he wanted to be a medic, to help people, be out in the field with them and help share the Lord with them, in case they were out there and near the end of their lives,” he said. “He found out it was much more difficult than he anticipated. There weren’t many Christians in the unit he was assigned to and the last thing they were concerned about was their verbiage. He had a real passion to evangelize to the people he encountered.”
Like most soldiers coming from the battlefield, there were stories that Acosta didn’t tell his parents about how many close calls they’d experienced. Basolo recalled one story Rudy told him when he was home for Christmas that involved a rocket that went through a vehicle he was riding, but did not detonate. Although some of the other soldiers were hit by shrapnel, he was not injured and was able to minister to those who were. Had the rocket detonated, all of them would surely have died. This experience deepened his desire to go into medicine, something that made his parents extremely proud.
“But the Lord had some other plans,” Basolo said quietly.
Dante and Carolyn Acosta and Rudy’s siblings, sister Allie and brother Doran, were taken by military transport to Dover Air Base in Delaware Saturday night. Only five hours had passed between notification and the adjutant arriving at their door to take them to the airport.
During the adjutant’s visit, Basolo said that he shared some information about the circumstances surrounding Rudy’s death, although details were still sketchy and a complete investigation is expected to take as long as eight months.
“Rudy was in the front line action and there was a meeting going on,” Basolo said. “The adjutant indicated that there was an Afghani that was supposed to have military clearance, but someone might have gotten to him. They didn’t know if he was the attacker or not, because he was killed in the action as well.”
Basolo said that today’s regular church services were set aside for a short slide show featuring the fallen soldier and some recollections about him from church leaders as well as his football coach.
“We played Amazing Grace and as we were all singing, it was pretty tearful,” he said.
Because the evening service began at 5 – exactly the time that the transport carrying Rudy’s body was scheduled to arrive at Dover Air Force Base – members of the congregation prayed for the family, who are scheduled to return home tomorrow.
Acosta liked sports, including volleyball, football and swimming. He competed in the Alcatraz Invitational swim in September 2007 with his mother, Carolyn and uncle, Dave Church. He finished in the high-200s, but judging from reports in local and social media pages, he was excited about just finishing.