The one that got away

For one local mom, the war is almost over

Amelia Albano’s son Santino Sims (pictured in uniform) soon will be returning from Iraq. Her younger son, Sergio, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Oak Park.

Amelia Albano’s son Santino Sims (pictured in uniform) soon will be returning from Iraq. Her younger son, Sergio, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Oak Park.

Photo By Larry Dalton

As he patrolled the hostile streets of Baghdad earlier this month, just days from completing his second tour of duty in Iraq and going home on leave, Valley High School alumni and U.S. Army infantry Sgt. Santino Sims’ Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb.

The force of the blast mostly was absorbed by the vehicle. Although the windshield shattered, Sims escaped with just a concussion. He got lucky.

An Iraqi youth standing on the side of the road also was hit with shrapnel from the blast. “They took them both to the hospital,” explained North Highlands resident Amelia Albano, Sims’ mom.

The soldier and the civilian were patched up and released back into their different worlds, and Sims got a chance to call Albano and check in before he finally started the process of returning stateside. “He called me and said he was still in Baghdad, but OK,” she said. “I was relieved. I was so relieved.”

To keep from worrying about her son, Albano has avoided watching or reading the news about the war in Iraq for the past three years (see “Casualties of war,” SN&R News, August 24). But on Veterans Day weekend, she did watch a couple of TV specials on the subject and was reminded why she has abstained from keeping current on the news from the Middle East. “They were showing some of these guys that are injured in Iraq, and so many of them lost their faces in these explosions,” she said. “If they weren’t killed, there were so many that were injured.”

She grew more uneasy when, several days later, her younger son Steven and several of his friends in the neighborhood learned that one of their high-school companions that had gone off to war wouldn’t be coming home.

“This other kid, they just found out that he was killed,” she said. “Steven’s girlfriend called him crying; it was her brother’s best friend.” A four-sentence news release from the U.S. Department of Defense officially confirmed the initial word-of-mouth news. “Lance Cpl. Timothy W. Brown, 21, of Sacramento, Calif., died Nov. 14 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province in Iraq,” read the sterile notification.

In his most recent call, Sims told his mom that he was safely in Kuwait and scheduled to reunite with his pregnant wife at his new home in Kentucky in late November. Albano is relieved that after her son completes his time off, he will take on a new military assignment next April in North Carolina for at least two years. “If he didn’t get this new assignment, they would have rotated him right back to Iraq,” she said. “I don’t know if he could handle it a third time. I really don’t. This time really kicked his butt.”

Albano still is concerned, however, that her son will struggle to adjust to life outside of a war zone after all he has been through. “I’m just hoping he can put it all behind him because he had to do a lot of stuff this time,” she explained. “He’s seen a lot—a lot of blood, a lot of death.”