The death of Army nurse Capt. Jennifer Moreno in Afghanistan last month devastated her teammates.
They told themselves they should have been the ones to take that dangerous mission with a team of Army Rangers instead of the feisty medic from San Diego with the broad smile.
But as the days wore on after the Oct. 6 bombings that killed four soldiers and wounded 30 more, Moreno’s friend and commander Capt. Amanda King realized it “couldn’t have happened any other way.”
Only Moreno, 25, had the bravery to race through a heavily mined village to try to save wounded Rangers.
“None of us would have done what you did, running into hell to save your wounded brothers, knowing full well you probably wouldn’t make it back,” King wrote in eulogy to her friend.
The Army shared King’s tribute Friday at a Joint Base Lewis-McChord memorial where Moreno’s friends and peers mourned her.
Moreno had spent much of the past two years working at Madigan Army Medical Center, where she was well-loved by her fellow nurses.
She is the first fatal casualty from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who died while serving under the flag of the Army hospital south of Tacoma.
“The loss of this great soldier is especially difficult for team Madigan,” said the hospital’s deputy commander of nursing, Col. Lena Gaudreau.
Moreno died while serving as a cultural support specialist alongside elite soldiers from the Georgia-based 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. The Ranger unit lost Sgt. Patrick Hawkins, 25, and Pfc. Cody Patterson, 24. The fourth casualty, Sgt. Joseph Peters, 24, belonged to the 5th Military Police Battalion out of Vicenza, Italy.
The attack unfolded as the Rangers approached a house in northern Kandahar province where they suspected insurgents were plotting a suicide attack in the city of Kandahar.
The Rangers called out to their suspect. He exited the building wearing a suicide vest.
His bomb detonated, followed by a series of explosions in the village.
Moreno posthumously received a Bronze Star for her attempts to rescue her wounded comrades. She also was promoted to captain after her death.
Moreno is one of only 11 women from Lewis-McChord to die in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one of only two women from the local base who were commissioned officers when they were killed.
Her assignment was one of the few ways that female military service members can go outside the wire on all-male special operations missions. The women on the cultural support teams interact with Afghan women, who normally do not speak to American men.
Moreno volunteered for the mission and completed her training last year, leaving the security of the Army hospital on Lewis-McChord to serve at the tip of the spear.
“There was something about her that made her want more, to give more, to do more,” said Madigan Commander Col. Ramona Fiorey.
Moreno grew up in Southern California and earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing at the University of San Francisco. She is survived by her mother, Maria Cordova; and two sisters and a brother.
Moreno deployed in June. King said she made a great impression on the cultural support team as a friendly person who had positive words for the soldiers around her.
“You had that effect on people where you just immediately put them at ease, but at the same time you were a fighter, a pit bull trapped in a Chihuahua’s body,” King wrote in her eulogy.
Moreno’s friends at Madigan had already started planning how they’d celebrate her return when they got the news of her death.
They were looking forward to getting their eyelashes done so Moreno could feel like a girl again, remembered Madigan nurse Jessica Rea. Others wanted to take her shopping or hit the gym.
Instead, their plans changed to honoring their friend’s sacrifice.
“God bless you, Jenny Moreno, on your final adventure,” nurse Christine Hulen said Friday.
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646