BY ART HOVEY and BILL EDDY / Lincoln Journal Star
Tuesday, Dec 02, 2008 - 12:41:12 am CST
A 31-year-old Army captain with family ties to both Nebraska and Guatemala died Monday from wounds suffered Oct. 28 in Afghanistan.
Rob Yllescas, a 2001 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln ROTC program who was severely injured by an improvised explosive device in the mountains of Afghanistan, died Monday morning at Bethesda Naval Medical Center near Washington, D.C.
On an Internet blog where his family kept friends and the public informed about Yllescas’ condition, his wife, Dena, a native of Osceola, wrote:
“Well, today Rob went to be with the Lord. Last night his ICP’s went really high and they took him for another CT scan. The scan results were devastating. So, we decided to let him go Home. He went very painlessly and quickly. I don’t know when his funeral will be but it will be in Nebraska in my hometown. I will let you all know the details when I get them. Thank all so much for the thousands of prayers you sent for my husband. We now have an angel looking over us.”
The blog is at http://yllescasfamily.blogspot.com.
President Bush donned a surgical mask to personally present Yllescas with the Purple Heart at Bethesda Nov. 10. Dena Yllescas was at her husband’s side at the time.
When Rob Yllescas was wounded, he was on his first deployment to Afghanistan, where he commanded about 90 U.S. soldiers and 200 Afghan fighters. When the IED went off, he lost his right leg below the knee and his left leg at the knee, among other injuries.
He also had served two tours of duty in Iraq, where he was part of an armored unit.
Dena Yllescas spoke of her husband in a steady voice hours after his death.
“He was an amazing person,” she said. “He truly believed in what he was doing over there. He’s not only an American hero, but he’s also one to our daughters here.”
Julia is 7. Eva is 10 months old.
Rob Yllescas and Dena Gissler, a former lifeguard at the Osceola swimming pool, had their first date when she was a freshman at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She later transferred to the nursing program at what is now BryanLGH Medical Center in Lincoln to be closer to him.
“We were engaged 11 months after we met. We figured out pretty quick that we were hitting it off.”
Surgeons operated on “a huge clot in the middle of his brain” Saturday. But there was more bleeding in the brain later. “He absolutely would not survive that.”
That’s when the decision was made to disconnect life support equipment.
Dena Yllescas said she would meet with an Army casualty affairs officer today to begin making funeral arrangements at Osceola.
Yllescas was a graduate of Army Ranger school in Georgia.
His family was living in Killeen, Texas, just outside Fort Hood, at the time of his most recent overseas assignment.
Yllescas’ mother, Barb, grew up on an Osceola area farm as part of a family that included four daughters and three sons.
Much of the family gathered in Lincoln Monday, where Barb’s parents, Raymond and Esther Schott, are now retired.
A grandmother, an aunt, an uncle and a cousin took turns offering memories of fat baby cheeks, a young boy’s take-charge attitude, a dedication to country, and the sweet smell of hay that Yllescas helped harvest during summer visits from Guatemala to Nebraska.
“He was a very special boy to all of us,” Esther Schott said, “because he was the oldest of 19 grandchildren. He was always kind of their leader and their hero.
“It’s a very bad day for us today,” she said, “but he’s still our hero and he always will be.”
Rob Yllescas’ father, Otto, a one-time foreign exchange student in Lincoln, stayed on after graduation to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He and Barb Schott met there and they returned to Guatemala later to his family business obligations.
So strong was the bond that formed with the Schott family after Rob was born that trips to Guatemala became almost as common as the trips other people might make to a distant corner of Nebraska.
Aunt Sarah, now Sarah Hernbloom and a Malcolm school teacher, flew there for the first time with sister Cathy when Sarah was 11 and Cathy was 7. Sarah would eventually go seven times.
“He was like our little brother,” Hernbloom said. As a baby, “he had the fattest, cutest cheeks. We always wanted to kiss him . . . He would look at us and grab his cheeks and just start screaming.”
To her, he was adorable, wonderful and amazing. “He always wanted to be in the military. That was his lifelong dream, to serve. We used to tease him that he would be the dictator of Guatemala.
“He was just one of those kids — he was always kind of take-charge, even as a little boy.“
Uncle Pat Schott, now 48 and of Omaha, drove more than 2,000 miles to Guatemala in 1980.
His nephew will always be special to him, because of “the love he had for us. And he wanted to do everything in his power in dedication to his country and the people who live here.”
Cousin Carson Schott — now of Seward, and son of Osceola farmer Mark Schott — remembers hay harvest and also his role as matchmaker.
“I had set him and his wife up,” Carson Schott said. “I set them up actually while I was in high school. The first date I went with them I was kind of a third wheel. We went to the demolition derby at the Osceola county fair.”
Family in Nebraska learned that Rob Yllescas’ medical condition had started to deteriorate after Thanksgiving.
“We thought things were looking more hopeful,” said Sarah Hernbloom.
The family had drawn encouragement from the times when he struggled to open his eyes and seemed to be squeezing hands.
When surgery became necessary for the blood clot, said Pat Schott, “I guess we started to prepare a little bit. But we were always thinking positive, that he would be able to pull through this.
“It’s a devastating loss,” he said, “not only to his family, but also to his country.”
Click to view image: 'UNL grad dies from injuries inflicted in Afghanist'
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