Francheska Velez, who had disarmed bombs in Iraq, was pregnant and headed home

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 6, 2009 5:29 PM

Francheska Velez was due home soon from Fort Hood.

The army private, stationed in Iraq, returned to Chicago to celebrate her 21st birthday last August. Back in Iraq, where she disarmed bombs, she learned she was pregnant, her family said, and arranged for maternity leave.

"She was supposed to be coming very, very soon. Everyone's devastated. Everyone's at a loss for words," said her cousin Jennifer Arzuaga. "She was very young. She wasn't supposed to die the way she died."

Velez, whose father came from Colombia and mother from Puerto Rico, attended Kelvyn Park High School and joined the army three years ago because she wanted to travel and make something of herself.

"She was the happiest person in the world," Arzuaga said.

Her pleasures tended toward the simple and her dancing was divine. Salsa and meringue, especially.

"She always made everybody happy. That's what it was about for her -- her family and her friends," Arzuaga said. As for Iraq, "She didn't really like it, but she was okay. She was just keeping strong. She was ready for anything."

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