The soldier, on his third deployment to Afghanistan, had connections to many people in the city.
Sgt. Leandro Jasso, a 25-year-old Army Ranger who grew up in Leavenworth and was assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, died Saturday while fighting in Afghanistan.
Jasso was wounded by gunfire while conducting combat operations in Khash Rod District, Nimruz province in southwestern Afghanistan, the U.S. Army said in an emailed statement. He was taken to a medical treatment facility in Garmsir District, Helmand province, where he died. The Department of Defense announced his death Sunday.
Jasso was on his third deployment to Afghanistan. At the time of his death, he was a team leader assigned to Company A, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, based at JBLM.
On Sunday, as news of Jasso’s death spread through Leavenworth, former teachers and friends recalled a quiet young man who enjoyed the discipline and experiences the Army provided. They said everyone seemed to have a connection to the soldier in the Chelan County city of about 2,000 people.
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“You hear the stories of kids enlisting and going off to war and then losing their life, but it really hits home with us, being a small town,” Elia Ala’ilima-Daley, principal of Cascade High School, where Jasso graduated in 2012, said in a phone interview. “Everybody knows everyone.”
Jasso’s death is the 10th among U.S. troops in Afghanistan this year and the first fatality of a Washington soldier in more than two years. The last had occurred in January 2016, when Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock, 30, a Washington National Guard soldier from Des Moines, was killed in action.
Andrea Brixey, who teaches at Cascade, first met Jasso when he was a student in her seventh-grade English class. He was someone who liked to challenge the norms but never in a disrespectful way, she said. She got an initial taste of that when, on the first day of school, he called her “Andrea” instead of “Ms. Brixey.”
“He wasn’t busy being a ringleader and trying to torment me. That was just how he rolled,” Brixey said. “He was never disruptive or difficult, but he always questioned authority on every level. But once he got the answers, he was the best kid to have on your team.”
Brixey suspects Jasso got his questions answered in the military.
He enlisted in August 2012, about three months after his high-school graduation. Brixey said he told her it seemed like the smartest option with the most benefit. He was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, before his assignment to JBLM and deployments.
The Army seemed to suit him well, according to Ala’ilima-Daley and Brixey. He liked traveling and meeting people from other parts of the world. He didn’t talk about his time in war, but his awards and honors speak for his experiences in combat.
“He didn’t speak overtly about being in dangerous situations, but if you asked, he would make significant, unblinking eye contact,” Brixey said. “The things he didn’t say spoke volumes.”
Cascade High School will hold a moment of silence on Monday morning. Leaders in the city are also considering other ways to honor Jasso, Ala’ilima-Daley said.
“We are in mourning, but we want to bring our community together,” he said.
Since the start of the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, 53 soldiers from Washington have died in the fighting out of 2,414 total deaths among U.S. troops, according to data from icasualties.org, which tracks casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. The deadliest year of the conflict was in 2010, when 499 U.S. soldier were killed.
The Central-Asian nation remains mired in violence, with civilian deaths reaching 1,692 for the first half of the year, according to United Nations data. That’s a record compared with comparable periods dating back a decade. Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government held parliamentary elections last month but is considering delaying the presidential election scheduled for April to facilitate peace talks with Islamist fighters including the Taliban, The New York Times reported.
Former President Barack Obama had announced a troop-withdrawal plan in 2014 but halted it before he left office. Last year, President Donald Trump said his administration had a new strategy for ending the war in Afghanistan that includes focusing on peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. A U.S. assessment released last week said that the U.S. and Afghan governments have made “little clear progress” in the war.
“Sgt. Jasso was a humble professional who placed the mission first, lived the Ranger Creed and will be deeply missed,” Lt. Col. Rob McChrystal, Jasso’s battalion commander, said in the Army’s statement.
Correction: Jasso’s death marks the first fatality of a Washington soldier in Afghanistan since the 2016 killing of Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated in the sixth paragraph that the most recent fatality was that of Army Cpl. Justin Clouse in 2014.