Austin, TX, US
SGT, CO A, 1ST BN, 23RD INF REGT , 3D SBCT, FORT LEWIS, WA
07/07/2012, KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan
SGT Juan Pantoja Navarro was the second youngest of 11 children. His parents immigrated to Austin from Mexico. Juan was one of just three in the family born in the US. In the home on Rundberg Lane family and friends filled the house with flowers, mementos and voices speaking softly of this distinguished young man.
Patricia Pantoja, Juan’s cousin, remembers the time a 12-year-old Juan rode a bike into his grandparents’ home in the mining town of Celaya.
“Look at what I brought my uncle,” Pantoja exclaimed in Spanish. “He can ride it while he tends to his sheep.” And my dad was like, ‘Son, we walk here. There’s no way to ride a bike in this place.’ But he was like, ‘But, uncle, I brought you transportation so you won’t get so tired anymore.’”
SGT Navarro was known for his generosity. Consuelo, SGT Navarro’s sister said their parents encouraged their children to give of themselves. Consuelo recounted SGT Navarro’s last visit. Juan wanted to go back to college and become an immigration attorney. He added that he’d learned the world was cruel, and did not want to have children of his own. But he wanted to devote time to his 28 nieces and nephews.
“‘I want to teach them, I want to take them on trips, I want to do so many things with them,’” Consuelo remembered SGT Navarro explaining.
SGT Navarro attended and graduated from Lanier High School. He was a marching band member and played bass drum. Juan met his friend Alex Ortega on the drum line, and Ortega quickly learned that Juan was all about the team. SGT Navarro’s personal mission was to lighten up anyone who felt sad or down. Everyone knew him by his great smile.
Juan never wanted to disappoint anyone; he never did. And he came through any adversity with a smile on his face. Patricia, his cousin said Juan was like that in everything – he wasn’t fearless, but he worked extra hard to face all his fears and challenges without hesitation.
“He was the type of person that even if he didn’t know you he would give you a big smile and a hug,” explained Miguel Pantoja, his older brother. “I’m proud of everything he did. I’m proud of him because he did what he wanted to do.” SGT Navarro remained fiercely loyal to his community.
A message on his family’s living room wall sent by SGT Navarro in the days before he was killed reads: “Going home means getting comfortable being who you are and who your soul really wants to be. … God loves me enough to let me go through all the lessons I came here to learn, even the ones that hurt the most.”