North Salem HS grad wounded in Afghanistan

Cristian Garcia transferred to Walter Reed Medical Center

Cristian Garcia, a 2105 North Salem High School graduate, in a selfie he took around October 14, 2017. Courtesy photo provided by his mother, Tamarra Huerta, October 16, 2017
Cristian Garcia, a 2105 North Salem High School graduate, in a selfie he took around October 14, 2017. Courtesy photo provided by his mother, Tamarra Huerta, October 16, 2017

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — When Cristian Garcia graduated from North Salem High School in 2015, he followed his lifelong dream right away: He joined the military.

He was assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division at Fort Richardson in Anchorage. About a month-and-a-half ago, he was deployed to Afghanistan.

Tamarra Huerta in Salem, October 16, 2017 (KOIN)
Tamarra Huerta in Salem, October 16, 2017 (KOIN)

Last Thursday, his mother, Tamarra Huerta, got a phone call.

“The first thing out of the guy’s mouth was, ‘We’re calling about Cristian. He was hurt, but he’s fine,'” Huerta told KOIN 6 News. “My worst fear would be having uniformed (personnel) showing up on my door that has a cross on his lapel. That would be my worst fear.”

Cristian Garcia was severely wounded that day. Jim Wagner, who was Cristian’s Army JROTC instructor for 4 years during high school, said Cristian was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and sustained shrapnel wounds in his face, neck, chest, arms and legs.

Wagner, who set up a GoFundMe page for the family to help them with their upcoming bills, said Cristian was first taken to Bagram Air Force Base, then to Germany and then on Monday to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the Washington, DC area for treatment.

“His throat got the brunt of it, because that’s where he’s unprotected,” his mother said. “That’s our biggest concern right now and what most of the surgeries are. He can’t talk because the shrapnel went into his throat and his vocal cords.”

Because he can’t talk, the only way she’s been able to talk with him is through messages.

“A really nice nurse in Germany handed her phone to my son, and my son got on Facebook and Snapchat, stuff like that,” she said.

Cristian, 20, loves being in the military and serving his country, she said. She’s known his whole life this is what he wanted to do and he’s anxious to rejoin his unit in Afghanistan.

“He’s ready to go, like, now, but obviously he has to heal first,” she said. “But he wants to be back with his unit.”

Huerta, a bartender and single mother of 4, said she tries not to worry too much about him.

GoFundMe: Cristian Garcia family

“I thought about it for a second that, wow, this could have been way worse, but it’s not. So I don’t really dwell on the negative, though. It’s kind of the glass is half-full and he’s good and he’ll recover.”

Cristian is up and moving but can’t talk. A specialist is waiting for him at Water Reed to help work on his vocal cords and repair his throat. Tamarra said she’s not sure how long he’ll be in the hospital.

She’ll be in the DC area this week because, “well, I’m a mom and he’s my baby.”

The military will send her to Walter Reed and pay for room and board. “But that leaves everything here behind. You still have to figure out how to take care of everything here.”

She’ll be off from her job as a bartender while she’s with her son at Walter Reed, and the GoFundMe account will help her keep up with bills.

Though she’s happy he’s back in the US, she knows he would rather be back with his unit.

“He wants to be better already,” she said.

And she’ll try not to worry.

“If he’s there and he’s doing what he loves, how many people can say they truly love their job? He does. Absolutely.”