Guam Guard in Afghanistan; “A Fitness Fight Against Cancer”

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CAMP PHOENIX, Afghanistan — Not long after Guam Army National Guardmembers adjusted their fitness schedule to support a fellow Army Soldier, the Soldier — a former Guam resident — lost a tough fight to pancreatic cancer.

Members of Headquarters-Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment, Guam Army National Guard, dedicated their Aug. 17 physical fitness regimen to 1st Lt. Timothy Santos Jr., a U.S. Army AH-64 Apache pilot. He died Aug. 19 after a brave fight against the disease. Santos, assigned to 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Armored Division out of Fort Bliss, Texas, had to hastily leave his Operation Enduring Freedom mission March 2013 to get immediate medical attention. 

[Members of Headquarters-Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment, Guam Army National Guard, stationed at Camp Phoenix, Kabul, Afghanistan, complete a  strenuous workout and show a fist in support of former Guam resident Timothy Santos Jr., a  U.S. Army AH-64 Apache pilot who’s battling cancer. Santos, a member of 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment, was stationed in Afghanistan but returned home for recovery. The Guam Guardsmen dedicated their Aug. 17 training regimen — dubbed “TJ’s Grand Slam” — for Santos. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenza/Released)]

Santos battled hard and vigilant, but the cancer was just too much to bear, said Sgt. 1st Class Tommy Padilla, operations Non-commissioned Officer and Santos’ uncle. He is survived by his wife, Katrina, and two children.

“All of his family was there for him. There was hope he’d win the battle,” said Padilla, whose sister Carmen is Santos’ mother. “He’s a strong man, a fighter. When I found out he died, I was in disbelief.”

Guam Guardmembers throughout Afghanistan had dedicated their Workout of the Day (WOD) to Santos. Close to two dozen Soldiers at Camp Phoenix, Kabul, combined to lift more than 92,000 pounds in less than 20 minutes.  Their intent was to encourage Santos to stay strong in his personal battle.

The Guam Soldiers staged what they called, “TJ’s Grand Slam,” and set up a series of exercises where they jumped, pulled and lifted objects or themselves, in a timed session. The event dealt with things involving Santos. For example, during his years as a member of Guam’s national and junior national baseball teams, he wore uniform No. 16. So the duration of workouts were timed for 16 minutes.

“As a family member, I can’t be there for him right now,” said Capt. Stephanie Taijeron, Task Force Guam medical officer and Santos’ relative. “So this is a small way to let TJ know I am there with him, heart and soul, to show him he’s still very important,” she said, the day of the WOD.

Event organizer Capt. Darrell Fejerang said the Guam Guardmembers encouraged Santos to remain positive and strong in the battle. Likewise, the Guam Soldiers are locked in their own OEF mission, but will remain tough for him, he added.

“The support from other service members means a lot,” Taijeron said.

Santos has other close relatives currently in Afghanistan with the Guam Guard, according to Taijeron. He also has close friends with the unit such as 2nd Lt. Mark A. Torre Jr., Delta Company’s executive officer, who was a member of Guam’s national baseball team as well.

Santos’ father, Tim Santos Sr., was a member of the Guam Air National Guard. So the family ties to the Guam Guard abound in Afghanistan.

Fejerang organized four exercises and categorized them in baseball terms, Santos’ sport. At first base, participants had to complete 29 rowing exercises. One barbell exercise was slated for second base, while third base consisted of four strict pull-ups. Finally, at home plate, participants had to complete five box jumps.

“Repetitions for first base represent his age (29). Repetitions for second and third base, and home plate, represent Santos’ Army unit (145th),” Fejerang explained. “Once all four stages are completed, the participants earn a grand slam.”

Drenched in sweat immediately following the WOD, the Soldiers grouped together and simultaneously called out, “Stay strong Tim!”

Santos had a promising baseball career prior to joining the military service. He turned down three college scholarships, joining the Army instead, Taijeron said. His younger brother, Trae, while a junior at Troy University, was drafted by the San Diego Padres June 2013.

A few participants wore Santos tribute T-shirts sent from Guam to Taijeron. The T-shirts read, “If cancer had a face, I’d punch it.” At the request of other Soldiers, more T-shirts are on their way to Afghanistan.

“We wanted TJ to know we’re pulling for him,” she said. “We know TJ and his family are going through a lot. We want him to be strong.”

“We offered to do this work-out as a symbol of our support,” Fejerang stated. “We truly admire Santos and his family’s courage and strength in their battle against this very aggressive disease.”

Santos and his family reside in Alabama.

“Every moment of his life was something special,” Padilla added. “TJ was a very good man; very respectful. This is something that’s really hard to accept.”