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Specialist Vilmar Galarza-Hernandez remembered for an easy smile

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Specialist Vilmar Galarza-Hernandez always had a smile on his face. The 21-year-old Soldier never complained and always said yes. His positive attitude touched his fellow Soldiers in 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment.

"His smile always made my day better. His attitude always made me feel it's not that bad. He never walked with a frown on his face," Spc. Jeffrey Livingston said at his memorial at Joint Base Lewis-McChord June 20.

Galarza, 21, died May 26 from an improvised explosive device blast in Maiwand District, Afghanistan. He deployed in April in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

A member of 2nd Platoon in the Tomahawk Battalion's Alpha Company, he was originally assigned duty on a vehicle, something that his fellow Soldiers knew was not where Galarza belonged.

"When we first arrived we were told the truck could not be used as much; it was like Christmas came early for (Galarza), and we could all see it in his face," Spc. Joshua Comstock said in a statement read by Livingston. "He was back on the ground and that's all that mattered."

Galarza joined the Army in August 2009. He met Livingston on a plane to Georgia, both on their way to basic training where they ended up assigned to the same platoon. At the time, Galarza's hair went down his back.

"I will never forget when they shaved that rock star hair off his head, the smile he had on his face," Livingston said. "His face showed a man that was proud and determined."

Galarza's company commander, Capt. Brandon Wohlschlegel, saw that determination in him.

"He never complained regardless of the task given to him and truly lived the values that we cherish in the Army," he said in remarks sent from downrange.

But there was a romantic side to Galarza. He married his sweatheart, Margarita Contreras, two weeks before deploying.

"He had the girl of his dreams at his side when it counted most," Lt. Col. Greg Harkins, 4-23 Inf. commander, said in remarks sent from Afghanistan.

The memory of his smile is what remains with his fellow Soldiers from 2nd Platoon, Comstock said, and what his platoon mates say will keep them going through the remainder of their deployment.

"Even up until the last breath those pearly whites were there to remind us that everything is going to be OK."

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