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Fort Drum remembers 2 soldiers killed in Afghanistan in July

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FORT DRUM — Two 10th Sustainment Brigade soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan were remembered at a ceremony Thursday afternoon at the post’s Memorial Park.

Sgt. 1st Class Bobby L. Estle, 38, of Lebanon, Ohio, and Pfc. Jose O. Belmontes, 28, of La Verne, Calif, were killed July 28 by small-arms fire in Wardak Province. Both soldiers were assigned to the brigade’s 630th Engineer Company of the 7th Engineer Battalion.

Sgt. Estle, a platoon sergeant and combat engineer, was known as a “big bear.” He stood an imposing 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighed more than 230 pounds.

“Although harsh at times, he always took care of his soldiers,” said Sgt. Evan J. Lourie, who spoke during the ceremony. Sgt. Estle also was described as a strong leader who would allow soldiers to learn from their mistakes.

His wife, Monica M. Estle, flipping through photos of Sgt. Estle on her phone, said that his demeanor changed when he was out of his uniform.

“He may have been a big man, but when he was with me and the kids, he was a teddy bear,” Mrs. Estle said. The two had been married for 15 years.

His son James Marston, 20, said the two liked to wrestle, even though his dad’s size frequently made it a one-sided contest. He described his father as his hero and best friend.

Sgt. Estle also is survived by his son Anthony Estle, 19, and daughter Marieanna Estle, 12, along with his parents, Robert and Deborah Howard.

Pfc. Belmontes was described at the ceremony by Spc. Bryan C. Storts as a caring listener, as well as his platoon’s barber and handyman. His nickname in his unit was Tapatio, after the hot sauce.

Hugo C. Belmontes, Pfc. Belmontes’s younger brother, said his brother looked after him and their brother Jessie as their mother worked two jobs, cooking in the morning and getting them to school.

“He had a good soul,” Mr. Belmontes said. “He was a giver.”

While Mr. Belmontes said his family has struggled with the loss, he said they’ve also found moments to laugh over their memories of him.

“We know we’re going to see him again,” Mr. Belmontes said.

About a dozen members of Pfc. Belmontes’s family made the cross-country trip from California for the ceremony. Pfc. Belmontes also is survived by his wife, Flora, sister, Ileana Belmontes, and parents, Francisca Lopez and Jose Belmontes.

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