Afghanistan war claims Jerseyan
Small-arms attack kills Newarker in Special Forces
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
BY RUSSELL BEN-ALI AND MARY JO PATTERSONStar-Ledger Staff
Early in March, just before Army Staff Sgt. Christian Longsworth was deployed to Afghanistan, he came home to Newark one last time.
He made a point of spending time with his mother, Cecilia, to whom he was devoted, and his girlfriend, Jessica Cruz, whom he loved. He also found time to pal around with the young men with whom he had grown up.
"It was kind of weird. He was getting in touch with all these people who had been an influence in his life," one of those friends, 25-year-old Devin Carroll, recalled yesterday. "It was almost like he had a premonition about what was going to happen to him."
Yesterday, many of the same people Longsworth sought out that week got together at his mother's house in Newark to mourn him.
Longsworth, 26, who was with the Special Forces, was killed Friday in Afghanistan. The Defense Department, which announced his death yesterday, said Longsworth died in Oruzgan province after his convoy came under small-arms fire. The soldier was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Longsworth is the fifth soldier from New Jersey, or with ties to the state, to be killed in Afghanistan since December 2002.
Friends cried and laughed as they recalled his life. Longsworth was one of those young men who had seemed to find himself in the military, they said.
He was proud of being a soldier, positive about the cause, realistic about the danger -- he had been wounded by a grenade in Iraq -- but upbeat.
"He said, 'I'm not afraid to die,'" said Cruz, his girlfriend.
"If there were bullets flying, Chris didn't back down. I know he was the first one that would protect the group," said Miguel Ramos, 27, another friend. "That was his responsibility. That was it. He would never allow any of his guys to go down before he did."
In the living room of her home on Smith Street, his mother, a native of Honduras, wiped away tears. "He's a hero," Cecilia Longsworth, a home health aide, said in Spanish, holding up a wooden plaque given to her son by the Army.
His father, Roy, a longshoreman at Port Newark who came to this country from El Salvador, died six years ago.
Longsworth was born in the Bronx and moved to Newark with his parents and older brother, Roy Jr., when he was 2. He attended St. Joseph's Elementary School in East Orange and, for three years, Essex Catholic High School, also in East Orange.
He spent his final year of high school at Newark's West Side High School and graduated in 1998. At West Side, Longsworth played a number of sports, including soccer, wrestling, track and baseball.
After graduation, he was not sure what to do. His brother, Roy, a make-up artist who lives in Puerto Rico, flew to New Jersey to give him advice. Though Roy was 17 years older than Christian, the two were very close.
"He was more than a brother, he was like a son," Roy Longsworth, 42, said yesterday at his mother's home, a two-family house near the East Orange border. "I said, 'You have to do something with your life. Either get a job or go back to school.'"
Christian decided to enlist in the Army. Proud of his decision, he went back to his old elementary school and told a former teacher, Sister Antoinette, what he planned to do.
"She said, 'This is the first time I saw him so focused,'" his friend Carroll said yesterday.
Longsworth served with the 31st Infantry Regiment at Fort Drum, N.Y., for two years. In 2001, he became a member of the training cadre for the 6th Ranger Training Battalion at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Three years later, he volunteered for Special Forces.
Last year, Chris, Roy and their mother celebrated Christmas together for the first time in 18 years. The reunion took place in Puerto Rico.
The following month, Chris telephoned Roy, saying he wanted to return to Puerto Rico.
"I asked, "Why, what's wrong?'" Roy Longsworth said yesterday. "He was like, 'Don't worry. I just want to be with you.'"
Christian visited again. When he left, he told his brother he was about to go on a mission.
Roy Longsworth wept yesterday while recalling his last words: "He said he was not sure he would be coming back because he knew someday something could happen."
In March, a month after completing Special Forces training, Longsworth was deployed to Afghanistan.
In addition to his mother and brother, Longsworth is survived by a daughter, Jaylin Araya, 5, of Newark.
His body was due to arrive home today.
Longsworth will be buried in Puerto Rico, according to his brother.
"He loved Puerto Rico. I know he'll be happy there," Roy Longsworth said. "All the years we didn't spend together -- now I'll have him near me for the rest of my life."