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Soldiers from Battery C, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division stand at a memorial service Tuesday for Sgt. Ariel Rico at Camp Eagle in Mosul, Iraq. Rico died Friday when mortars hit the camp, which is headquarters for the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based division.

Soldiers from Battery C, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division stand at a memorial service Tuesday for Sgt. Ariel Rico at Camp Eagle in Mosul, Iraq. Rico died Friday when mortars hit the camp, which is headquarters for the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based division. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

Soldiers from Battery C, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division stand at a memorial service Tuesday for Sgt. Ariel Rico at Camp Eagle in Mosul, Iraq. Rico died Friday when mortars hit the camp, which is headquarters for the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based division.

Soldiers from Battery C, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division stand at a memorial service Tuesday for Sgt. Ariel Rico at Camp Eagle in Mosul, Iraq. Rico died Friday when mortars hit the camp, which is headquarters for the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based division. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

A 101st Airborne Division soldier comforts a fellow soldier at the memorial service Tuesday for Sgt. Ariel Rico.

A 101st Airborne Division soldier comforts a fellow soldier at the memorial service Tuesday for Sgt. Ariel Rico. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

Soldiers at the memorial service for Sgt. Ariel Rico.

Soldiers at the memorial service for Sgt. Ariel Rico. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

MOSUL, Iraq — Sgt. Ariel Rico smiled even as water flooded his living space at Camp Eagle. Falling face first into mud while pushing a Humvee didn’t wipe away his grin, either.

“I think someone forgot to tell Sgt. Rico that there was an emotion besides happiness,” said Capt. Steven C. Fahlenkamp at Rico’s memorial service Tuesday.

Rico, 26, who died Friday after four mortars struck near the Mosul palace, was remembered by buddies as a lighthearted mentor and family man.

About 150 people gathered for the service on a cold, foggy morning outside the palace, the 101st Airborne Division headquarters. Tearful soldiers embraced after filing past the gunner’s helmet, carbine and boots. Propped against them was a photo of Rico on Thanksgiving, the day before he died.

“Sgt. Rico just had a look about him that said, ‘I am funny,’” said 1st Sgt. Timothy E. Howard.

In February, Rico was assigned to Battery C, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment. He requested the assignment to his old battery, which he had first served with in Fort Campbell, Ky., when he joined the military five years ago.

Word spread quickly earlier this year that Rico was heading back to Fort Campbell. Fahlenkamp, the battery commander, said three soldiers in 30 minutes approached him and said, “Rico’s coming back. We have to do whatever it takes to get him back in the battery.”

The El Paso, Texas, native was known for getting the job done and pumping up his soldiers with comments such as “Slap it up, baby,” and the standard greeting, “What’s up, pah-tner?” The R&B and rap music fan was quick to talk about his family, whose photos splashed the walls around his cot.

Minutes before the 11:30 a.m. attack, Howard talked to Rico, who was on his way to get cash. Howard asked Rico to get some for him, too.

“He said with the funniest facial expression I have seen from him yet, ‘How much, first sarge? Ten, 15 Gs? You ask for it, you got it.’ It wasn’t what he said that made me laugh, it was just the way he packaged it ... the goofy grin, the way he carried himself,” Howard said.

Sgt. Michael Deason was stationed at Camp Casey, South Korea, with Rico in 2002.

“He had a personality that rocked the world,” he said. “No matter what, he would always pick you up and make your day brighter.”

After his Korea tour, Rico returned to his old battery. “He wanted to come home; this is a family here,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Trujillo.

In Mosul, Rico was the 4th section gunner for the battery, the primary guard force for the division’s headquarters. He was responsible for tower guard, entry control points and the quick reactionary force. He was the first soldier in the “Red Knights” battalion to die since the division arrived in Iraq in March.

He is survived by his wife, Jessica, and daughter, Jadelyn, 7.

Howard said Rico’s dying words were, “Tell my family that I love them.”

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