LEDBETTER, KY, USA U.S. Army SFC, 1ST BRIGADE, 98TH DIVISION (MNC-I), PENNSAUKEN, NJ RUBI’ AH, IRAQ 08/05/2005
Turning raw Iraqi recruits into soldiers capable of defending their country is just what Sergeant First Class Robert V. Derenda was cut out to do, his commanding officer said Saturday during a funeral Mass for the Cheektowaga native.
Derenda, 42, died August 5, 2005, in a highway crash in northwest Iraq while assigned to the 98th Army Reserve Division. He was a drill instructor who put to good use the psychology degree he earned from the University at Buffalo before returning to UB for a degree in chemical engineering, Major General Bruce E. Robinson told mourners in St. Josaphat Catholic Church, Cheektowaga, New York.
“Robert was the right guy because of his experience” – a “natural” at whipping young men into fighting shape – Robinson said.
Derenda was working as an engineer in Kentucky when he was called up with members of the 100th Division to be part of a Military Transition Team led by the Rochester-based 98th. The team mentors and assists new Iraqi security forces.
“His grounding was as a helper and mentor,” Robinson said. “He wanted to be a leader and a role model.”
The one-time St. Francis High School cross-country runner also had a fun-loving, adventurous side, the general said. Whenever he came home to spend Thanksgiving with his parents, Valerian and Loretta Derenda, he would run in the Turkey Trot, the general noted.
“He was attracted to ladies, and he loved to get on his Harley,” Robinson said.
Nearly 40 soldiers who served with Derenda, including Major General Gregory J. Hunt, commander of the Kentucky-based 100th Division, attended the service.
“He was our comrade, our buddy, an American soldier,” Robinson said.
Derenda’s life was shaped by his family and his strong belief in God and his country, said the Rev. Theodore C. Rog, pastor at St. Josaphat’s.
A fellow soldier described Derenda as “a good Catholic boy,” the priest said, adding: “He was. He lived it.”
Turning to the Derenda family, Rog said: “Thank you for the gift of Robert to our parish and our community.”
Derenda, whose duty in Iraq was scheduled to end next month, was buried this week in Arlington National Cemetery.