Bruce C. Salazar Jr. moved to Tracy in 2005 as a step toward his lifelong goal to become a soldier.
U.S. Army Pfc. Salazar, 24, was killed Friday in Muhammad Sath, Iraq, about 11/2 years after he enlisted.
As a youngster, he'd admired the soldiers from the local recruiting office in his hometown of Modesto, and in 2005 he moved to Tracy to finish school before he enlisted in January 2006.
"He was really just involved in the excitement of the challenges in the military," said his cousin, Claudia McIntyre, who invited Salazar to live with her family in Tracy in fall 2005. He took courses at Tracy Adult School in preparation for a high school diploma equivalency exam. "Once he accomplished that, he moved forward with recruiting in the armed forces."
Margaret Susan Ruiz, Salazar's mother, said Wednesday that her son's pals when he was a boy included soldiers from Modesto's recruiting office.
"I knew then that he would join the military," she said.
Salazar attended Davis High School in Modesto for his freshman and sophomore years. He also lived off and on with his father in Corona, in Southern California, and as a teenager he moved with his father to Arkansas. He has four stepsisters in Arkansas, and his mother and a sister live in Modesto.
Ruiz said her son went to a recruiting office in Arkansas to sign up with the Army but was turned away because he hadn't graduated from high school. He returned to California to get his diploma through an adult school.
She said she'd always had mixed feelings about his dream of being a soldier, especially after his infantry battalion was sent to Iraq in May for its 15-month tour of duty.
"Before the war it was fine, but after the war, I had my doubts."
Ruiz didn't hear much about her son's job in the Army, aside from him being in a dangerous part of Baghdad.
"He didn't tell us what was going on," she said. "He wanted to know what was going on over here."
Salazar was a soldier with the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga. The Army said Tuesday that Salazar was killed Friday by an improvised explosive device.
Kevin Larson, spokesman for the 3rd Infantry Division, said details of Friday's incident were not available. He said the 3,500-soldier 2nd Brigade was sent to southern Baghdad in May and was active in combat operations, patrols and in support of Iraqi security forces in their ongoing hunt for insurgents.
Contact reporter Bob Brownne at firstname.lastname@example.org.